Living Well: Save your child’s back with well-fitting pack — National Backpack Safety Awareness Day is Sept. 26
School’s well under way, but is your child’s backpack properly fitted? It’s important to get the right fit with your child’s backpack. Doing so can help prevent common health problems associated with improper backpack use.
Maybe your daughter complains about a tingling in her arms, weak muscles, or an achy back when she comes home from school. Maybe you notice red strap marks on her shoulders. These are all signs she is wearing her backpack in the wrong way or loading it with too much weight.
“After a long day of carrying a backpack that is too heavy or ill-fitting, your child may have complaints of pain and fatigue,” said Susan Jones, MS, OTR/L, occupational therapist with Memorial Regional Health.
Packing a backpack
Teach your kids to pack their backpacks properly to ease pain. For example, load heavy books in the back of the pack, so they are against the child’s back. Pack well to avoid items shifting around and causing strain. Advise your children to bring only what they need that day, not every book for every class. While at school, have them put heavy books in their locker, grabbing just what they need before class. A good option for young children is a backpack on wheels to help them haul the weight — of course, check with their teacher first to be sure backpacks with wheels are allowed.
Also, teach your children to lift with their knees when picking up their pack, rather than bending down at the waist. This will help prevent back pain.
“Do your due diligence when buying and filling your child’s backpack. You won’t regret it,” Jones said.
Wearing, fitting a backpack
When it comes to fit, the goal is to balance the weight of books and school supplies evenly to avoid pain and strain and wear the backpack the correct way. Request that your kids wear both straps, rather than letting it hang off one shoulder. They may think they look cool, but they are forcing their spine to curve, which can cause discomfort.
If you haven’t already purchased a backpack this year, the American Occupational Therapy Association offers tips for ensuring a proper fit.
Buy a pack with well-padded shoulder straps. Doing so will help avoid pain and tingling in the neck, hands, and arms caused by nerves and blood vessels in the neck and shoulders getting pinched. Also, adjust the straps to create a snug fit, ensuring the pack rests above your child’s waistline. Loose hanging packs tend to pull kids backward, which strains muscles. You might have a battle with this one, but wearing the waist strap helps distribute weight more evenly.
According to AOTA, a child’s backpack should weigh no more than 10 percent of his or her body weight. For example, if your fourth-grade son weighs 100 pounds, his backpack should weigh only 10. Put your child’s backpack on the scale, and see what it weighs.
“Set your child up for success in school with an appropriately fitting backpack,” Jones said.
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