By Dr. Ken Freedman, Freedman Chiropractic Center
A study alluded to this startling calculation: A child carrying a 12-pound backpack, lifting it 10 times per day for the entire school year, has carried and lifted a combined load of 21,600 pounds — the equivalent of SIX mid-sized cars!
Heavy backpacks can lead to chronic pain and an increased risk for poor posture. A misalignment in the spine can negatively affect the central nervous system’s ability to send and receive messages between the brain and the body’s organs. This increases the risk for a host of health problems, including chronic pain, injuries, and prolonged recovery from these injuries. The good news is that by choosing the right backpack for your child, and teaching them how to pack, lift and wear it correctly, you can help reduce the risk for back pain and poor posture. Keep these backpack safety tips in mind:
1. Choose right. The right size backpack enables you to see your child’s shoulders when it’s worn. Wider, padded shoulder straps that adjust at the top and bottom of the backpack distribute weight better and reduce pressure on shoulder muscles. Opt for a backpack that includes hip and chest belts, which when adjusted properly will enable your child to carry it more securely.
Reflective materials help your child be more visible to vehicular traffic at night. Be sure zippers open and close easily. Avoid single-strap messenger bags that distribute the load unevenly.
2. Pack right. Lighten the load. Children should never carry more than 10-15 percent of their body weight in their backpacks. If your child’s pack is too heavy, talk to your child about ways to leave nonessential items at home. Pack heavy materials in the center, closest to wall of the pack that rests against your child’s spine. Support with lighter materials to prevent the contents from shifting. If possible, water bottles can be carried empty, then filled and used.
3. Lift right. Check the weight of the pack before lifting. Place the pack between the feet. Remember: “Bend at the knees, if you please” with “nose between the toes.” Lift the pack close to the body using both straps.
4. Wear right. Remind your child that even if it “looks cool” to wear the backpack over a single shoulder, doing so could lead to neck and shoulder pain. Use both straps for better weight distribution. Adjust the straps so the top of the pack is at the same level as the bottom of the neck, and the bottom of the pack is at the beltline. If your child is carrying the backpack hunched over with the pack on their buttocks, they are wearing and carrying it incorrectly.
Dr. Ken Freedman is a certified Backpack Safety America instructor who has testified before the New Jersey Assembly Education Commitee, and has presented backpack safety instructional programs in schools throughout Middlesex County. He can be reached at the Freedman Chiropractic Center at http://FreedmanChiropracticCenter.com or 732-254-6011 for more information or to arrange a presentation.