Have you looked at your child’s backpack lately? Kids often find themselves loaded down as they shuttle back and forth with homework, lunches, musical instruments and sports equipment in tow. Backpacks are wonderful, but if misfit, overloaded or worn incorrectly, they may cause undue stress on a child’s back and shoulders.
This stress can lead to back, neck or shoulder pain, as well as tingling and numbness in the arms and hands. Children do not always complain of these symptoms, but their actions may indicate they are having problems. They may struggle to lift their pack onto their back or bend over at the waist when wearing their backpack. These are both signs that their backpack is too heavy. To prevent discomfort or injury from backpacks, there are three steps to follow:
• Purchase a good-fitting backpack.
• Load the backpack correctly.
• Wear the backpack properly.
Backpack fit: There are four basic features to look at when purchasing a backpack: straps, back, width and length. First, look for a padded back and two padded straps that are at least 2 inches wide. Wide straps distribute the weight evenly over the shoulders and, the padded back prevents items inside from digging into the child’s back.
Now have your child try it on. The width of the pack needs to be adequate for the necessary items, but not wider than his or her back, if possible. Some children are so small that this is unavoidable.
Next, look at the length and make sure the bottom of the backpack is no lower than 4 inches below the child’s waistline (level with the belly button). Beyond these features, some packs have a chest strap that ensures the shoulder straps stay in the correct location.
Another feature that you may find on the pack is a waist belt, which helps to evently distribute the weight of the pack. Both of these features are helpful but not mandatory for a good fit.
Proper loading: Once you have a properly fitting backpack, make sure your child knows how to load it correctly. The heaviest items should be loaded in the back of the pack (closest to his or her back). Make use of the various compartments of the pack to place awkwardly shaped items away from the body.
Once the pack is loaded, head to the scale and weigh your child and loaded pack separately. Most professionals recommend that children carry a backpack that weighs no more than 10 to 15 percent of the child’s weight. For example, a 100-pound child should not carry more than 15 pounds in his or her backpack, and ideally the weight should be closer to the 10-pound range. If children have extra books beyond this weight limit, they can carry one or two in their arms.
Proper placement: With the backpack loaded, make sure your child is wearing it properly. When your child first wears the pack, adjust the straps so the pack is in contact with his or her back. Emphasize wearing both straps, as use of only one strap will cause unnecessary strain on the shoulder and back. Remind your child to zip the backpack when wearing it, because, when unzipped, the contents can shift backward causing unnecessary stress on the back.
Following these recommendations for backpack safety can help prevent excessive stress on your child’s body. However, if he or she experiences symptoms of pain or numbness, call your pediatrician.