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Back-to-School Backpack Safety

September 09, 2016
Kids and backpacks

Now that your kids are back to school, you may want to take a look at the load they’re carrying on their backs and shoulders every day.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, backpacks that are not used properly may injure muscles and joints. This can lead to severe back, neck, and shoulder pain, posture problems and more.

“Sometimes kids let the straps relax and the backpack sags way below the waist. You want the backpack to rest higher up, keeping it at the very least at waist level or only slightly below. You also want to keep that backpack nice and tight and snug up top,” said Dr. Dennis Oh, a neurosurgeon at Baystate Medical Center.

Single strapped bags or the tendency to wear your backpack on one side is also a very bad idea because it places double the amount of weight on one side of the body.

“If your child continues to do this on a regular basis and uses it on his or her dominant side, then you could end up with poor posture, various physical deformities, and even scoliosis,” said Dr. Oh.

Dr. Oh says the damage caused by wearing a backpack incorrectly doesn’t happen overnight.

“The damage comes from the cumulative effects of carrying a heavy backpack day after day, week after week, month after month, resulting in muscle strain, poor posture, and, even nerve irritation, as well as a number of other health issues,” he said.

Signs and Symptoms

So what are the signs of damage caused by a heavy backpack?

“Acute symptoms include back pain, achiness in the lower, mid, or upper back, and pain in the shoulders and collarbone. The more long-term effects could include asymmetry, such as uneven shoulders and poor posture,” said Dr. Oh.

While they may take time to correct, Dr. Oh says the symptoms can be reversed.

“Even the worst case and more rare scenarios involving stress fractures will eventually heal if you detect them early enough. Once a child has reached the level of long-term effects, it will take a long time to realign and reposition the child’s posture, making it a long road to recovery,” said Dr. Oh.

Backpack Safety Tips

Here are some additional tips on how you can protect your child’s posture when wearing a backpack:

  • Choose a backpack with wide straps so that the pressure on the front and top of the shoulders is distributed more evenly, rather than with narrower straps.
  • Use the waist strap. A lot of backpacks have that strap around the waist; it keeps the bag from flapping around and provides another anchor point for distributing the weight of the backpack.
  • Use bags with wheels as an alternative to the traditional bag.
  • Try to buy the smallest backpack possible. Plan ahead and see what needs to go in there and don’t buy anything that’s bigger than necessary. If the bag is too big most kids will load it up with unnecessary items.
  • Organize the backpack to use all of its compartments.
  • Pack heavier items closest to the center of the backpack.