Backpacks As Health Hazards?
"Don’t let your child’s backpack lead to back pain," advises Packard Children’s Hospital
For Release: August 03, 2009STANFORD, Calif. -- Did you know your child’s backpack can actually be a health hazard?
“If a backpack is overloaded or not loaded properly, children can develop pain in their shoulders, neck and back,” said Michelle Merget, OTR, a licensed occupational therapist at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. “So this school year, we’re advising families to be extra careful when helping their kids pack all those books, computers, lunches, changes of clothes and sometimes even sports equipment,” added Merget. “It can be an overwhelming and even dangerous amount of stuff to carry.” In these tips and a new video, Merget offers advice on how to choose the right backpack and minimize the wear and tear on a child’s body.
Backpack fit: “For proper backpack fitting, be certain the pack is lightweight and hangs no more than two inches below the shoulder and four inches below the waist,” said Merget. “Backpacks come in a lot of different types and sizes, so it shouldn’t be a problem finding one that’s just right.” Merget added that rolling backpacks are OK if a school allows them. “However, kids should be wary of picking these up and carrying these on the back,” advised Merget. “The wheels add extra weight.”
Shoulder straps: “Make sure that the backpack you choose has two shoulder straps, not one, and that the straps are thick and padded, both for comfort and for distributing weight evenly over the shoulders.”
Extra straps: “Some backpacks come with extra straps across the chest and waist,” noted Merget. “You may want to consider these, especially if your child is carrying lots of stuff. The chest straps help keep the shoulder straps separate and help to distribute the weight. The waist straps can help with heavier loads by stabilizing this weight.”
Padding: Merget said that better backpacks have some extra padding across the back. “This not only helps with lumbar support, but can help prevent slouching and also keep the backpack’s contents from jabbing a child’s back.”
Packing: “Even older kids should never carry a backpack weighing 25 pounds when packed,” said Merget, who noted American Physical Therapy Association guidelines that state a backpack should never weigh more than 15 percent of a child’s weight. “Parents need to take everything out from the previous day and repack, being certain that heavy items are on the bottom and lighter items are on the top. This reduces strain on the shoulders and makes use of the stronger portion of the lower back,” said Merget, who added one more important, yet perhaps overlooked benefit. “Placing heavier items on the bottom means you won’t smash that peanut butter sandwich.”
Finally, Merget said that families can make that Incredibles-themed backpack truly incredible by getting a backpack with bonus compartments. “Placing assorted items in these extra slots can help with weight distribution and organization, and may just be the perfect spot for that iPod.”
Fast Facts from The American Occupational Therapy Association
- Over 79 million kids in the U.S. carry school backpacks.
- More than 23,000 backpack-related injuries are treated annually.
- Approximately 55% of students carry a backpack that is heavier than the recommended guideline of 15 percent of total body weight.
- In one study with American students ages 11 to 15, 64 percent reported back pain related to heavy backpacks.
- Get ready for this year’s National School Backpack Awareness Day on September 16. Find out more at http://www.aota.org.
Ranked as one of the nation's best pediatric hospitals by U.S.News & World Report, Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford is a 312-bed hospital devoted to the care of children and expectant mothers. Providing pediatric and obstetric medical and surgical services and associated with the Stanford University School of Medicine, Packard Children's offers patients locally, regionally and nationally the full range of health care programs and services, from preventive and routine care to the diagnosis and treatment of serious illness and injury. For more information, visit www.lpch.org.
Media ContactTodd Kleinheinz