When children head back to school, they almost always load their books and other school supplies in back packs.
A properly sized backpack with the right weight can be a very good way to carry school necessities. Unfortunately, many kids overload their backpacks and suffer back pain as a result.
Health experts say a child should not carry more than 15 percent of his body weight in a backpack. That means if the child weights 80 pounds, the backpack shouldn't weigh more than 12 pounds.
Most kids, however, load all their books into their backpacks and are carrying too much weight on their shoulders. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) more than 13,700 kids, ages 5-18 years old, are treated in hospitals and doctors' offices for injuries related to backpacks.
"When used correctly, backpacks can be a good way to carry the necessities of the school day," said Dr. Melanie Kinchen, an orthopaedic surgeon. "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 her use a rolling backpack as an alternative to carrying the heavy load on her shoulders."
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recommends the following safety tips to help eliminate pain and discomfort due to backpacks:
Always use both shoulder straps to keep the weight of the backpack better distributed.
Tighten the straps and use waist strap if the bag has one.
Remove or organize items if too heavy and place biggest items closest to the back.
Lift properly and bend at the knees to pick up a backpack.
Carry only those items that are required for the day; leave books at home or school, if possible.
Keep walkways clear of backpacks to avoid tripping over them.
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 body weight.
Be sure the school allows students to stop at their lockers throughout the day.
The Academy also says teachers can help by remaining aware of how much weight children are carrying in their backpack and planning lessons to avoid a heavy load of books. Also, teachers should allow enough time for kids to stop by their lockers to drop off books.