Lighten the Load With These 5 Backpack Safety Tips
Back-to-school season is here, one of the purchases you likely have made is a new backpack. Start your child off right by choosing a backpack that not only supports their education, but their backs they carry it on.
Before you rush out and buy the first one you see, here are five tips to help you carefully choose the ideal backpack for your child.
1. Look for wide, padded straps with many compartments
Not only will padded straps offer more comfort, but they’ll help offer more support for your child. Wider straps mean they’re less likely to dig into your child’s shoulders, causing them to constantly readjust the backpack during the day.
Many backpacks come with multiple compartments. This makes it easier to distribute the weight properly across the entire back. The heaviest items should be positioned in the middle of the backpack with lighter items placed on either side of the heavy objects. By packing it like this, the bulk of the weight is being carried by the load bearing muscles of the back which help reduce injury and pain.
2. Wear two straps
It might look cool to sling the backpack over one shoulder, but this causes unnecessary strain to your child’s back, neck and shoulders. Their posture will suffer as one side of their body will compensate for the extra weight, causing added pressure to joints, ligaments, and tendons.
Emphasize the importance of always wearing the backpack, especially when it’s full, on both shoulders to minimize future back and shoulder pain.
If the backpack comes with a waist strap, encourage your child to use it while carrying extra-heavy loads to maintain proper balance and alignment. Whereas wearing both straps distributes the weight across their back, using a waist strap will spread out the weight across their body.
3. Position the backpack properly
Proper positioning is everything when it comes to carrying heavy loads, whether that is in sports, school, work, or at home.
When your child wears the backpack, make sure the bottom of the backpack doesn’t fall more than four inches below their lower back. The flat edge of the backpack should rest centrally and flat along the long erector spinae muscles of the back.
If the backpack is too large, try to adjust the shoulder straps to see if that raises the backpack along the back. If it doesn’t, or if the backpack is wider than your child’s torso, it’s recommended that the pack be replaced.
4. Limit the load carried
It’s no surprise that kids are expected to do more, and that includes homework. More homework means more books going to and from home. It’s important to limit the weight your child carries to make sure they aren’t over loading the body and the limits it can hold without causing strain.
If the bottom of the back pack is not touching the torso, this causes a forward leading posture which is one of the main reasons for strains and sprains in adults and adolescents. When you see this posturing it is probably coming from one of two things, either the position of the backpack is poor or the load in the back pack is excessive.
A good rule of thumb issued by the American Pediatrics Association is to limit backpack weight to 10-20% of your child’s weight. Use the chart below to help gauge your child’s weight with their backpack load.
It’s easy during the school year to accumulate papers and other material which adds up. It would be helpful to sit down with your child at the end of each week to go through their backpack to make sure only the essentials are being packed around.
If the school provides lockers, make sure your child is utilizing one to reduce the amount of weight carried throughout the day.
5. Bend at the knees to pick up
As with all heavy loads, it’s important to pick up the backpack by bending at the knees.
The easiest way to do this is to keep the feet shoulder width apart, chest up tall, and to squat while keeping the lordosis (low back curvature) in the spine. Injuries can occur when the curvature in the spine gets reversed which causes posterior pressure on delicate structures of the spine. If a pull or “strain” is felt in their lower back, then they are using inappropriate technique to bend and lift.
Also worth noting, make sure your child avoids lifting their backpack or heavy items while twisting their spine or from a stooped forward position. Bending the back in this manner has deleterious effects on the spine and torso which can compound over a period of time. On many instances, injuries related to lifting heavier objects don’t occur at the time of the lifting activity. These injuries can occur due to “micro-trauma” which is due to unnecessary strain that is prolonged over a period of time and the pain from this micro-trauma is normally felt hours, days, or months later.
When You Should Seek a Physical Therapist
Back pain is no joke at any age. If your child is complaining about back pain while at school, review these tips to ensure they are carrying and lifting their backpack properly. If the pain doesn’t subside after assessment and application of these tips, it’s time to make an appointment to see a skilled physical therapist.
At Wright Physical Therapy, our experienced doctors of physical therapy will be able to properly assess your child’s posture, alignment when carrying loads such as backpacks, and if any pathology is present. Once there is an accurate assessment, they will be able to get to the root of the pain through proper mechanical low back treatment resulting from improper backpack use and help in the the pain not returning in the future. Call us today at one of our clinic locations and schedule an appointment so your child can take their back to school in a healthy way.