Some tips to lighten the load
More than 13,700 kids aged 5 to 18 were treated in hospitals and doctors' offices for backpack-related injuries in a single year, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) advises parents and caregivers to pay close attention to children's posture and not wait for them to complain about back pain before lightening their load.
"When used correctly, backpacks can be a good way to carry the necessities of the school day," Dr. Melanie Kinchen, an orthopedic surgeon and AAOS spokeswoman, said in an academy news release. "Backpack injuries are commonly caused by wearing overloaded backpacks, as well as lifting and carrying them incorrectly. Parents and teachers should guide kids to take preventative measures. Start by choosing a backpack that is appropriately sized for your child or have them use a rolling backpack as an alternative to carrying their heavy load on their shoulders."
The academy suggested several additional ways to help children avoid pain and discomfort from wearing a backpack:
- Use both shoulder straps to evenly distribute the weight of the backpack.
- Tighten the straps and use a waist strap if available.
- Place the biggest items in the backpack closest to the back, but remove anything that is too heavy.
- Bend at the knees and use the legs when picking up a backpack.
- Only carry essential items in the backpack. Leave extra books at home or school whenever possible
- Do not leave backpacks in aisles or walkways to avoid falls.
Parents also can help with backpack-related pain:
- Encourage your child or teenager to tell you about pain or discomfort that may be caused by a heavy backpack, like numbness or tingling in the arms or legs.
- Purchase a backpack appropriate for the size of your child and look for any changes in your child’s posture when he or she wears the backpack.
- Watch your child put on or take off the backpack to see if it is a struggle. Do not ignore red marks on the shoulders if your child or teenager expresses discomfort.
- Talk to the school about lightening the load. Keep the load under 10-15 percent of the child's bodyweight.
- Be sure the school allows students to stop at their lockers throughout the day.
Teachers can help by following these tips:
- When planning lessons, take into consideration ways to lighten a child’s backpack load.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers back-to-school health tips.