Backpack safety for back to school

It’s August, which means school will be starting soon! Summer was fun, but now it’s time to trade swim suits for thinking caps. Many parents are excited for this transition back to school but as the mom of a kindergartner, I am a nervous wreck. Will she make friends? Will she like her teacher? Will she love learning? Will she eat her lunch? I have so many questions. And as a chiropractor, I have other questions. Will she have to carry around heavy books thus increasing her risk of neck and back pain? Massive textbooks are highly unlikely for kindergarteners, but it is important to be aware of backpack safety at every age. If you have school-aged kiddos, here are a few backpack tips to keep them safe this year.

Keep It Light

The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) recommends a backpack weigh no more than 5% to 10% of a child's weight. Studies show up to 80% of people will experience pack pain in their life. In a new and disturbing trend, young children are suffering from back pain much earlier than previous generations, and the use of overweight backpacks is a contributing factor.

  • 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, by the straps.
  • The weight within the backpack should also be evenly distributed. Make sure pointy or bulky objects are packed away from the area that will rest on your child’s back.
  • A backpack with individualized compartments helps in positioning contents most effectively.
  • And bigger is definitely not better! The more room there is in a backpack, the more your child will carry-and the heavier the backpack will be.

Keep It Fresh

No, you do not need to purchase a fresh new backpack every year. Just check to make sure their current backpack is still in proper working order.

  • A good backpack should have wide, padded straps. Over time that padding can wear out and non-padded straps are uncomfortable and can dig into your child’s shoulders.
  • Next, check that the straps can still be adjusted. Straps that are too loose may cause the bag to hang too low: it 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.
  • Lastly, check that the zippers are in working order. If one compartment doesn’t close, more items will be put into the compartments that do still close. This may change the weight distribution within the bag and affect your child’s posture.

Keep It Cool

  • Using both straps is cool!! Lugging a backpack around by one strap can cause a disproportionate shift of weight to one side leading to neck and muscle spasms as well as low-back pain. Neck and low back pain are definitely NOT cool.
  • Waist and chest straps can also help distribute the weight of a backpack more evenly across your child’s back.
  • Although the use of rollerpacks - or backpacks on wheels - has become popular in recent years, ACA is now recommending that they be used cautiously and on a limited basis by only those students who are not physically able to carry a backpack. Some school districts have begun banning the use of rollerpacks because they clutter hallways, resulting in dangerous trips and falls.

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 hand-out materials or workbooks. Also ask if there is a digital version of the text that can be accessed from home.
If you or your child experiences any pain or discomfort resulting from backpack use, see the team at Champion Wellness in Hendersonville, TN. Dr Heather is a licensed chiropractor trained to diagnose and treat patients of all ages. In addition, as a Certified Chiropractic Sports Physician ® she can also prescribe exercises designed to help children develop strong muscles, along with instruction in good nutrition, posture and sleeping habits.

Heather Champion

Heather Champion

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