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As students get ready for school, each year brings a growing list of required supplies and books, which increases the amount of weight students are carrying on their backs.
According to the American Occupational Therapy Association, over 79 million students in the United States carry a backpack and an estimated 55% are carrying a backpack that is too heavy. That’s more than 43 million students who may be doing damage to their bodies with heavy books, electronic devices, and other school supplies.
Incorrect wear of backpacks and bookbags can also contribute to health problems, including pain in the back, neck, and shoulders, or the development of poor posture. Making sure that your children wear their backpacks properly can help prevent pain and posture problems.
Here are five tips on correct backpack wear:
- Invest in an ergonomic backpack to help your student safely and effectively carry their books and supplies. These have padded backs, waist and chest straps, and compression straps to keep contents in place. Shoulder straps should be 2 inches wide.
- Test before your purchase. Bring a few personal items that you would normally carry in your backpack to the store with you. Slip them into the backpack as you try them on to get a better sense of weight distribution, etc.
- Use a backpack with multiple compartments to distribute the weight better. The American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons advises placing heavier items, such as books, near the center of the backpack to prevent the uneven placement of weight. Have students pack what they need for the day, if possible, to lighten the load.
- Pack lightly. The American Chiropractic Association recommends that children carry about 5 to 10% of their body weight in their backpacks. Anything over 10% can contribute to straining muscles and improper posture.
- Don’t wear the backpack too low. The bottom of the backpack should be no more than 2 inches below the waist.
When it comes to wearing a backpack, the combined effects of heavy load, the position of the load on the body, size and shape of the load, and time spent carrying can be associated with different soft tissue, joint and postural issues. However, by implementing these five key tips we can significantly reduce the chance of strain/ injury to joints and soft tissue and improve our children’s posture.
Physical therapist Gueorgui Petrov is the rehabilitation services coordinator at Broward Health North Rehabilitation Institute.