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Sauganash Wellness Center
6160 N. Cicero Ave., Ste. 214
Chicago, IL 60646
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Backpack Safety

By Dr. Deanna Minkler

When the school year is in full swing, those backpacks can become a heavy health risk to our kids. We list here warning signs to help you determine if the pack is too heavy, tips on how to watch for any developing problems and tips for buying a new bag.

Warning Signs a Backpack is Too Heavy

  • Change in posture when wearing the backpack.
  • Struggling when putting on or taking off the backpack.
  • Pain — especially when wearing the backpack — in the neck, shoulders and lower back.
  • Tingling or numbness in arms and legs, mostly arms.
  • Red marks on the shoulders.

Practical Suggestions for Parents
Listen to your children. Pain is a signal that something is wrong.
If your child complains of back pain, contact your chiropractor or pediatrician. Back pain should not be taken lightly. Tell your healthcare professional about any discomfort that your child is suffering.

Limiting the weight of the backpack is key to preventing injuries.

  • If you notice your child’s backpack is heavier on Mondays and Fridays, encourage him or her to do better homework planning.
  • Backpacks should never weigh more than 10-20% of a child's weight. If your child doesn’t know what 10% of her or his body weight feels like, use the bathroom scale to give an idea.
  • Are there unnecessary items being toted such as laptops, iPods, and video games?
  • If the backpack is still too heavy, talk to your child's teacher. Ask if your child could leave the heaviest books at school, and bring home only lighter handout materials or workbooks. Ask the teacher for a set of text books to keep at home.

Choosing a Backpack

Size: The size of the backpack should match the size of the child.

Padding: Choose a backpack with wide, padded shoulder straps and a padded back. A padded back prevents sharp objects from digging into your child's back and possibly altering his or her posture.

Two straps: A backpack with only one shoulder strap that goes around the neck does not distribute weight evenly. Always use both shoulder straps. Slinging a backpack over one shoulder can strain muscles. Wearing a backpack on one shoulder can lead to muscle spasms in the neck, shoulders, or lower back, and could even increase the curvature of the spine.

Pack light: Organize the backpack to use all of its compartments. Pack heavier items closest to the center of the back. The backpack should never weigh more than 10 to 20 percent of the student's body weight. A heavier backpack will cause your child to bend forward in an attempt to support the weight on his or her back, rather than on the shoulders.

Adjustable straps: The shoulder straps should be adjustable so the backpack can be fitted to your child's body. Straps that are too loose can cause the backpack to dangle uncomfortably and cause spinal misalignment and pain.

Waist strap: A waist strap takes even more weight off the shoulders.

Tighten straps: Tighten the straps until the pack is close to your child's body. The backpack should never hang more than four inches below the waistline. A backpack that hangs too low increases the weight on the shoulders, causing your child to lean forward when walking.

Lightweight: Make sure that the backpack itself doesn't add too much weight to the load.

Bending: Bend down by bending both knees. Teach your child to bend at the knees instead of the waist while wearing or picking up a heavy backpack.

Rolling backpacks: Consider a rolling backpack. This type of backpack may be a good choice for students who must tote a heavy load. Remember that rolling backpacks still must be carried up stairs, and they may be difficult to roll in snow.

backpack safety

Shoulder straps should be adjustable so the
backpack can be fitted to your child's body. Straps
that are too loose can cause the backpack to
dangle uncomfortably and cause spinal
misalignment and pain.



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