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September 14, 2015

September is National Backpack Awareness Month

Did you know that about over 2,000 backpack related injuries are reported every year?  That doesn't include the minor backaches children might not mention or that don't seem serious enough to treat. If you have children, then you know how heavy a backpack can get during the school year.  About 55% of students carry a backpack that is heavier than the recommended guideline of 15% of the student’s total body weight. The day-to-day repetition of carrying heavy school backpacks may place additional stress on the rapidly growing child’s spinal structures, making them more susceptible to postural changes. One study found a positive correlation between backpack weight and spinal deviations in the cervical (neck) and thoracic (mid-back) spines.

Guidelines for backpack use include:

  • DO NOT let the weight of the backpack exceed 15% of their body weight
  • Keep it close! Put the heaviest books closest to their back. The farther the weight is from their back, the harder the muscles have to work.
  • Never more than four below. A backpack should never hang more than four inches below the waist and should fit comfortably on and below the shoulders.
  • Don’t let it lean: Using only one strap puts extreme pressure on one side of the body. Slip on both straps for more even weight distribution.
  • Put on some padding: Look for backpacks with two widely padded shoulder straps to protect the shoulders and better distribute weight.
  • Wear the waist belt: Choosing a backpack with a waist belt (and using it!) can help transfer some of the weight from the back and shoulders to the hips and torso.
  • Clean it out: Regularly go through their backpack and make sure they need everything that’s in there. If not, pull it out to help lighten the load. Several books/textbooks can now be viewed on the web or electronic devices.
  • Try out a new set of wheels: If the school allows it, consider a backpack on wheels. This helps forgo any weight issues by bearing a backpack that’s too heavy.
  • Good lifting: Remember to have them use good technique when lifting the backpack. Keeping the spine straight and bending with their knees.
  • Exercise! Engage in regular exercise and stretching for the neck and back.

A Physical Therapist can help you choose a proper backpack and fit it specifically to your child. Children come in all shapes and sizes, and some have physical limitations that require special adaptations.
Additionally, we can help improve posture problems, correct muscle imbalances, and treat pain that can result from improper backpack use. We can also design individualized fitness programs to help children get strong and stay strong—and carry their own loads! Stop in and see us today.

- Bassam S. Kassab, DPT, Regional Director

California Physical Therapy Association (CPTA) © 2003
MoveForwardPT 2015

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