“Back” to School: Backpacks 101

Back to School means Backpack season. Whether you have a 1st grader proudly wearing his new Star Wars backpack or a college student schlepping the same backpack since high school, we should all be aware of the issues and pain that backpacks can cause at any age.
Applying a little common sense and choosing the right backpack can make a big difference in comfort and help prevent injuries. Here are some helpful tips:

One Size Does NOT Fit All!
Choose the smallest possible backpack that will meet all your needs. Paying a little extra for these features will pay off in the long run. Choose a backpack made with adjustable padded shoulder straps at least 2 inches wide. The backpack should be made with lightweight but durable material and it should include a padded back. Choose a backpack with hip straps or waist belts that when fastened, will redistribute the weight from the shoulders and back to the pelvis.
Also, consider a rolling backpack which will allow your child to pull their bag instead of carrying it. This solution allows for children to carry much heavier loads. Just be sure that they can still safely and effectively carry the backpack up the stairs or on and off the bus.

Lighten The Load!
Backpacks allow individuals to carry a heavy load and distribute the weight across the back and shoulder muscles. Overloading backpacks can strain these muscles over a period of time. The natural curves in the middle and lower back will be distorted which causes irritation to the spine joints. More obvious effects of carrying an overloaded backpack include the rounding of the shoulders. This forward-leaning posture can reduce balance and make children more likely to trip and fall. If you notice your child walking with rounded, hunched over shoulders, you should adjust the backpack and eliminate any excess weight. Try to limit the weight of the backpack to approximately 10% of the child’s body weight. If your child complains about the weight, make it lighter! Here are some tips to teach your children the proper and safe way to wear a backpack:
1. Load the backpack with the heaviest objects on the bottom.
2. Wear it on your back with BOTH shoulder straps on.
3. Adjust the straps as follows: Adjust the straps to fit the backpack snugly to your body, holding the bottom of the backpack 2 inches above the waist and keeping the top just below the base of the skull
4. Do not carry the backpack low near the buttocks

Be Proactive!
There are simple ways we can help to prevent any long-term back problems in our children while at the same time making their day-to-day routine more comfortable:
Listen to your children when they complain that their backpack is too heavy.
Remind them to use both shoulder straps if they are only using one and trying to look “cool”.
Help them clean out their backpacks and determine if they are carrying books or other objects unnecessarily.
Offer to take them shopping for a new backpack or a rolling backpack that will work better for them.

Dr. Rita Cummings, at Tamarac Wellness Center, treats back pain in patients of all ages. Call (303) 731-5723 to schedule your initial consultation.

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