Have you been shopping for the perfect backpack for back-to-school? Which came out the winner--Spiderman, Barbie, Dora the Explorer or Batman? Was it the rolling backpack, or the one complete with water bottle and lunch pack? If only selecting a backpack was simply a fun ritual that signifies the start of a new school year. But these days selecting the right backpack is a true health concern.
Did you know that backpacks can cause headaches, back shoulder and neck pain, muscle spasms and tingling in the extremities? Did you know this pain can and is occurring in children across the nation? According to a study performed by the University of Michigan, more than 60% of children will experience back pain before their eighteenth birthday and these problems are often chronic and can cause symptoms that will last their entire lives.
According to Backpack Safety America (BSA), the maximum backpack weight requirement for everyone is 10-15% of your body weight. So a child weighting 40 lbs should carry a maximum of 6 lbs in their backpack. The average load carried by students is 20-40 lbs per backpack! To clarify the urgency of the situation, the maximum load that a 150 lb adult should be carrying in a backpack is a mere 22.5 lbs!
How to Select a Backpack
- Purchase an ergonomic backpack which shifts the weight from the normal stress points, such as the neck, shoulders and upper back to the lower back.
- Choose a backpack with wheels. There's not better way to protect the back than to wear nothing on it. However, overloading a rolling backpack could be just as dangerous as students may be required to lift them for certain activities, like getting on a school bus, or hoisting into a locker.
- Load a backpack correctly by placing larger heavier items in the rear of the backpack, closest to the body and try to keep things evenly balanced in both sides of the pack.
- Select a backpack with built in lumbar support. Lumbar support shifts weight to the lower extremities and create a situation for good posture.
- Select a backpack with superior shoulder padding for comfort. Backpacks with inadequate shoulder padding digs into muscles and creates prime situations for shoulder spasms and muscle aches.
- Select a backpack which is the appropriate size for the person carrying it. An oversized backpack will cause imbalance and a backpack that is too snug will cause difficulty putting it on and taking it off, which may result in injury.
The Healthy Use of a Backpack
- Remember to lift a backpack with both hands and bend from the knees. Just as you would any other heavy item.
- Never swing a loaded backpack, keep it close to the body for maximum control.
- Use BOTH shoulder straps as an uneven load will overload one side of the body and create compression problems.
- Carry only necessary items in your backpack. Miscellaneous items add pounds needlessly.
We've learned that binding a child during those formative years inhibits proper growth. Overloaded backpacks are creating similar developmental problems. Young bones are not meant to struggle under excessive weight and as parents it's our job to bring this oversight to the attention of school administrators. Children's minds cannot be fed at the expense of their bodies. Help by selecting backpacks which alleviate back strain, provide proper lumbar support and are ergonomically correct. Discuss the possibility of rolling backpacks with school administrators and/or the idea of monitoring backpack loads for developmental safety. Learning should not be painful at any stage. To help educators combat this problem, visit www.backpacksafe.com for a comprehensive program that can be brought to your child's school.