Column: Back-to-school backpack safety

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Commentary by Tiffany Thacker, nurse practitioner and program coordinator of The Spine Program at IU Health North Hospital

Thacker

What concerns do you have when kids carry heavy backpacks?

Heavy backpacks strain the muscles in the back, neck, shoulders, spine joints and rib cage. Heavy weight bearing on a young person’s back can distort the natural curves in the back and lead to rounding of the shoulders.

What are signs a child is injuring his/her back?

Signs of injury include constant pain, leg pain with numbness or weakness, or if pain causes your child to wake up while sleeping. If your child experiences any of these symptoms, even if it’s just for a few weeks, it’s important to make an appointment with his/her primary care physician.

What can parents do to prevent their children from back problems caused by heavy backpacks?

There are several things parents can do to protect their child’s back:

  • Use your home scale to weigh your child’s backpack. The backpack should not be more than 10 percent of their body weight.
  • Pick a backpack that fits your child. It should not rest any lower than the small of their lower back. If it hangs too far down, it will increase your child’s lower back pain and risk of falling.
  • The shoulder straps should be wide and cushioned to help distribute the weight.  A strap that goes across their hips will also help with proper distribution of weight.
  • Make sure your child uses both straps and doesn’t sling it over one shoulder. Holding a backpack on one shoulder causes excessive strain and throws off proper body alignment.
  • Distribute the weight of the backpack so the heavier items are resting closer to the child’s back.
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