Is Your Child's Backpack Making the Grade?

By: peaksports-admin | Posted: 07/07/2015

While a back pack is still one of the best ways to tote homework, an overloaded or improperly worn backpack gets a failing grade, according to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA).

The Maximum safe weight for children as recommended by most experts is no heavier than 15% of the child's body weight. Worn correctly and not overloaded, a backpack is supported by some of the strongest muscles in the body: the back, and the abdominal muscles. These muscle groups work together to stabilize the trunk and holds the body in proper postural alignment. However, it's disturbing to find children carrying backpacks heavier than the recommended weight limit, particularly given the vulnerability of youth's musculoskeletal system during the growing years.

Injuries can occur when a child is trying to adapt a heavy load, uses harmful postures such as arching the back, leaning forward or, if only one strap is used, leaning to one side. These postural adaptations can cause spinal compression and/or improper alignment, and may hamper the proper functioning of disks between the vertebrae that provide shock absorption. A too-heavy load also causes muscles and soft tissue of the back to work harder, leading to strain and fatigue. This leaves the back more vulnerable to injury. A heavy load may also cause stress or compression to the shoulders and arms. When nerves are compressed, the child may experience tingling or numbness in the arms.

Tips for safe backpack use:

  • Wear Both straps. Using only one strap, even with backpacks that have one strap that runs across the body, causes one shoulder to bear the weight of the bag. By wearing both shoulder straps, the weight of the pack is better distributed, and a symmetrical posture is promoted. A backpack that has padded, contoured shoulder straps will also help reduce pressure on the chest and shoulders.
  • Make sure the backpack fits. It is important to pay close attention to the way the backpack is positioned on the back, and the size of the backpack should match the size of the child. Shoulder straps should fit comfortably on the shoulder and under the arms, so that the arms can move freely. The bottom of the pack should rest on the contour of the lower back. The pack should "sit" evenly in the middle of the back, no "sag down" towards the buttocks.
  • Make frequent stops. Stopping at lockers throughout the day to avoid carrying too many books at once, and leaving non-essentials at home will lessen the weight of the backpack.

Look for the following features when selecting a backpack:

  • A padded back to reduce pressure on the back and prevent the pack's contents from digging into the child's neck.
  • A waist belt to help distribute some of the load to the pelvis.
  • Compression straps on the sides or bottom of the backpack that, when tightened, compress the contents of the backpack and stabilize the articles.
  • Reflective material so that the child is visible to drivers at night.

So, how do you make sure that your child stays injury free? Parents should look for the following signs that the backpack is too heavy:

  • Pain when wearing the backpack
  • Tingling or numbness in the arms
  • Red marks on the shoulders

The message to parents is to be aware of the loads your children are carrying. Above all, urge your children to tell you if they are in pain or have discomfort before a problem becomes serious.

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