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
15% 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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