Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Keep kids from heaving hefty backpacks

NEW YORK - With a new school year underway, the American Physical Therapy Association
(APTA) is reminding parents that wearing backpacks improperly or ones
that are too heavy put children at increased risk for back injuries and
muscle strain.

recent study of backpack-carrying pre-K through 9th graders showed that
unhealthy changes in posture are magnified if the backpack weighs more
than 10 to 15 percent of the student’s body weight. The APTA recommends that backpack loads be kept to this limit.

Physical therapist and APTA member Dr. Mary Ann Wilmarth warns in an APTA-issued statement that injury
can occur when a child bearing an overloaded backpack resorts to
arching the back, bending forward, twisting, or leaning to one side.

The APTA offers these tips for safe backpack use:

both straps. Slinging the backpack over only one shoulder using a
single strap causes one side of the body to bear the brunt of the
weight. By wearing two shoulder straps, the weight of the backpack is
better distributed, which promotes better posture.

the backpack over the strongest mid-back muscles. The backpack should
rest evenly in the middle of the back near the child’s center of
gravity. Shoulder straps should be adjusted to allow the child to put
on and take off the backpack with ease. Tighten the straps so that the
backpack does not extend below the lower back.

addition to lightening the load, the APTA suggests organizing the
contents of the backpack by placing the heaviest items closest to the

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What Problems Can Backpacks Pose?

Although many factors may lead to back pain - increased
participation in sports or exercise, poor posture while sitting, and
long periods of inactivity - some children have backaches because
they're lugging around their entire locker's worth of books, school
supplies, and assorted personal items all day long. But most doctors
and physical therapists recommend that kids carry no more than 10% to
of their body weight in their packs.

And bulky or heavy backpacks don't just cause back injuries. Here are some other safety issues to consider:

  • People who carry large packs often aren't aware of how much space
    the packs take up and can hit others with their packs when turning
    around or moving through tight spaces, such as the aisles of the school
  • Students are often injured when they trip over large packs or the packs fall on them.
  • Carrying a heavy pack changes the way a person walks and increases
    the risk of falling, particularly on stairs or other places where the
    backpack puts the student off balance.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents look for the following when choosing the right backpack:

  • a lightweight pack that doesn't add a lot of
    weight to your child's load (for example, even though leather packs
    look cool, they weigh more than traditional canvas backpacks)
  • two wide, padded shoulder straps - straps that are too narrow can dig into shoulders
  • a padded back, which not only provides increased
    comfort, but also protects your child from being poked by sharp edges
    on objects (pencils, rulers, notebooks, etc.) inside the pack
  • a waist belt, which helps to distribute the weight more evenly across the body
  • multiple compartments, which can also help distribute the weight more evenly

Using Backpacks Wisely

Here are some easy steps your child can take to prevent injury when using a backpack:

Lighten the load.
No matter how well-designed the
backpack, doctors and physical therapists recommend that children carry
packs of no more than 10% to 15% of their body weight - but less is
always better.
If your child doesn't know what 10% to 15% of his or her
body weight feels like, use the bathroom scale to get an idea (for
example, if your child weighs 80 pounds, his or her backpack shouldn't
weigh more than 8 to 12 pounds).

A lot of the responsibility for packing lightly - and safely - rests with your child:

  • Encourage your child to use the locker or desk frequently throughout the day instead of carrying the entire day's worth of books in the backpack.
  • Make sure your child isn't toting unnecessary items - laptops, CD players, and video games can add extra pounds to your child's pack.
  • Encourage your child to bring home only the books that are needed for homework or studying each night.
  • Ask about your child's homework planning. If
    you've noticed that your child seems to have a heavier pack on Fridays,
    he or she may be procrastinating on homework until the weekend, which
    may make the backpack much heavier.

Use and pick up the backpack properly. Make sure
your child uses both shoulder straps. Bags that are slung over the
shoulder or across the chest - or that only have one strap - aren't as
effective at distributing the weight as bags with two wide shoulder
straps, and therefore may strain muscles. It's also a good idea to
tighten the straps enough for the backpack to fit closely to your
child's body and sit 2 inches (5 centimeters) above your child's waist.

Being a Safe Backpack Advocate

Involving other parents and your child's school in solving students'
backpack burdens might help to lessen kids' loads. Some ways the school
can get involved include:

  • allowing students more time in between classes to use lockers
  • purchasing paperback books
  • implementing school education programs about safe backpack use
  • purchasing books on CD-ROM or putting some curriculum on the school's website, when possible

You may need to adjust your child's backpack and/or reduce how much your child is carrying if he or she:

  • struggles to get the backpack on or off
  • has back pain
  • leans forward to carry the backpack

If your child continues to have back pain or has numbness or
weakness in the arms or legs, talk to your child's doctor or physical

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