Did you know something as simple as your child’s backpack could be hurting his/her health? Backpack weight, type and how it’s carried can leave your student in pain. UnityPoint Health physical therapist Adam Van Der Molen, DPT, wants parents to know injury symptoms to watch for, as well as solutions if your child is carrying a heavy backpack.
Top Heavy Backpack Injuries
It’s no surprise injuries to the low back are common from backpacks. Van Der Molen says he also sees the following injuries from carrying a bag weighing too much:
- Neck pain
- Shoulder pain
- Arm/hand numbness and/or tingling
“Symptoms may include headaches, muscle soreness, discomfort with moving the extremities or the back,” Van Der Molen says. “Children might notice or have pain when walking to school or picking up their backpack from their desk or bus seat. Their arms may tingle or feel numb when they are carrying a backpack for a prolonged period of time as well.”
Van Der Molen also says injuries can have long-term effects, if not treated properly or timely. Regularly carrying a heavy backpack can lead to posture problems, spinal compression, stress or compression to the nerves or blood vessels in the arm and more.
“A research study of a sample of 345 children found more than half (55 percent) of children were carrying bags greater than 15 percent of their body weight, and up to one-third of their subjects reported back pain. For instance, those in sixth grade were carrying up to 21 percent of their body weight, and those in fifth grade, 19 percent. On average, a fifth grader can weigh up to 65-90 pounds, which would correlate to a 12-17 pound backpack weight,” Van Der Molen says.
How to Tell If Your Child’s Backpack is Too Heavy
Backpack weight should not be greater than 10-15 percent of a child’s body weight. Van Der Molen recommends weighing the full backpack on a scale for an accurate calculation for the child/bag weight ratio. He also suggests watching for these signs:
- Walking pattern. Your child seems to be walking differently compared to normal.
- Lifting the bag easily. Your child struggles to lift the backpack from the floor to shoulder-level and vice versa.
As far as solutions for the heavy backpack load, Van Der Molen says ask your child’s school about technology opportunities.
“In this age of technology, laptop computers and tablets help reduce the need for heavy textbooks, so if this is an option for homework duties, substitute physical books for lighter weight electronic devices or audio/digital books,” Van Der Molen says.
When technology isn’t available, Van Der Molen suggests helping your child plan and ahead and packing a backpack with them.
“Collaborate and talk with your child’s teacher to see if he/she provides online resources for the curriculum or options for take-home folder/paper handouts for work not finished in class. Plan ahead by checking the daily and weekly schedules of which classes a child will have to reduce the unnecessary work of transporting too many books at one time. Also, when organizing items in the backpack, place the heaviest items nearest to the child’s back,” Van Der Molen says.
Make Sure Your Child’s Backpack has the Proper Fit
Backpacks are about fashion as well as function, but when a backpack is properly fitted to a child, the risk of injury decreases. Van Der Molen says parents should look for these features when buying and fitting a backpack to their child:
- Backpack size. The size of the bag should compare with the size of your child. The lowest part of the pack should rest in the middle of the low back.
- Two, padded straps. Always pick a bag with two straps versus one. Straps shouldn’t be loose where they slide off the shoulders, but not too tight as to limit arm motion.
- Waist strap option. Maybe not the coolest accessory, but a waist strap helps evenly spread the load against the pelvis. Or, find a backpack with extra padding against the child’s back, preventing the pack from pressing against the child’s body.
“If your child starts experiencing any type of pain, consult a provider or physical therapist, as your child may benefit from physical therapy to improve overall back and core strength, postural endurance/strengthening exercises and flexibility exercises that would allow your child to return to school healthy, happy and pain-free,” Van Der Molen says.
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