Safe Backpack: Back-to-School Tips to Prevent Injury

Practicing safe backpack wearing techniques and using a backpack that is the appropriate size and weight for your child can help to protect their back, neck, and shoulders. As part of back-to-school shopping, have children try on backpacks just as they would clothing to see what fits best and is most comfortable. Many children wear their backpacks incorrectly or load them up with too many items which can increase risk of injury. In anticipation of National School Backpack Awareness Day on September 26, 2018, Therapeutic Movements is reminding parents of backpack safety tips.

The Wrong Backpack

How many times have you seen a student sling their backpack over one shoulder or struggle to even pick it up to put on? These are clear red flags that safe backpack procedures are not being followed and trouble could ensue.

Back and Shoulder Pain

When bags are too heavy, they put strain on the back and shoulders. According to ACA research, in one study 60 percent of students who were carrying backpacks that were too heavy reported back pain. This happens frequently when straps are not tight enough and the backpack is allowed to hang down low on the back. Children often tighten their muscles or arch their back to compensate.

Poor Posture

So how do children adjust for the weight of their backpack? They often hunch forward to let their back hold more of the weight than their shoulders and relieve some pressure. However, this just puts more stress on their back and can aggravate conditions such as scoliosis, lordosis, and kyphosis (all curvatures of the spine).

Neck Problems

Children may tense up or hold their neck in a rigid position when trying to manage the weight of their backpack as they head back to school. Physical therapy may be necessary to address pain in the neck, back, and shoulders as well as poor posture.

Backpack Safety Tips

Therapy experts recommend parents and child care providers brush up on safe backpack wearing techniques to help students reduce the risk of injury and pain.

Choose the Right Backpack

Pick a backpack that is the right size for your child, keeping in mind you may have buy a new one if they go through a major growth spurt. When working properly, the backpack should go from roughly two inches below their shoulder blades down to their waist. If it extends beyond this area, it may be too big for your child right now. Also, select a bag that has multiple compartments so that you can spread out books and other belongings, and make sure it has soft, padded shoulder straps.

Proper Positioning on the Body

Although kids often wear their backpack on one shoulder or slung low on their back in an effort to look cooler, in reality, their bag should be worn over both shoulders, and the straps should be tight enough to hold it securely against their back. If the bag has a hip belt or sternum belt, these can be used to further decrease strain on the back and shoulders and distribute weight.

Pack Light

An important factor in packing your child’s backpack is their weight. A safe backpack weighs no more than 10 percent to 15 percent of your child’s body weight. That means a 50-pound child’s bag should weigh 7.5 pounds at most. This may mean thinking twice about what they pack, or leaving some heavier books at school.

AOTA’s National School Backpack Awareness Day

National School Backpack Awareness Day – which is typically held on the third Wednesday of September – aims to increase awareness regarding backpack safety and injury prevention.

Learning Backpack Safety Tips

Help your child care for their health by making sure they understand the importance of wearing their backpack snugly on both shoulders. If they do experience any pain, they should speak up and let you know. You may want to talk to their teacher about ways to lighten the load such as sending home only necessary handouts, providing time in class for book work, or more frequent trips to lockers to switch out supplies.

As children head back to school, pay attention to their overall safety including making sure they have a safe backpack that fits their size and needs. Take complaints of aches and pains seriously, especially if caused by their backpack and you notice red marks on their shoulders or changes in their posture.

Therapeutic Movements provides pediatric physical therapy and occupational therapy to help children recover from injury and prevent further damage. Therapists can work with you to ensure your child is using correct bending, lifting, and carrying techniques and doing exercises to keep their muscles and joints strong. For more information, contact us today and check out our frequently asked questions page.

Is your child complaining of back or shoulder pain from their backpack? Get them the help they need for recovery at Therapeutic Movements.


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