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Does Your Child’s Backpack Make the Grade?

The Free Press WV

Backpacks are one of the best ways to tote homework and school supplies; however, an overloaded or improperly worn one can be where your child’s pack receives a failing grade.

“The way a backpack is worn certainly affects your health, said Eric J. Radcliffe, M.D., program director of UHC Family Medicine Residency Program. “The height of the backpack should extend from approximately two inches below the shoulder blades to waist level or slightly above the waist. It is also recommended that individuals evenly distribute the weight of the backpack by wearing it on both shoulders.”

The Free Press WV


Carrying too much weight in a backpack or wearing it the wrong way can lead to pain and strain. Parents can take steps to help children load and wear backpacks the correct way, to avoid health problems later. About 55 percent of students carry a backpack that is heavier than the recommended guidelines of 10 percent of the student’s total body weight.

“At UHC Family Medicine we want to make sure families learn about the proper weight and how to appropriately choose, pack, lift, and carry backpacks,” said Dr. Radcliffe. “That is why UHC Family Medicine will be at the Meadowbrook Mall Food Court from noon to 5 p.m. on Wednesday, September 20 on National Backpack Awareness Day.”

In a study on the effect of backpack education on student behavior and health, nearly 8 out of 10 middle school students who changed how they loaded and wore their backpacks reported less pain and strain in their back, necks, and shoulders. UHC Family Medicine, along with the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), urges parents and caregivers to consider the following when selecting a backpack this school year:

  •  Load the heaviest items closest to the child’s back.

  •  Arrange books and materials so they won’t slide around in the backpack.

  •  Check what your child carries to school and brings home. Make sure the items are necessary for the day’s activities.

  •  If the backpack is too heavy or tightly packed, your child can hand carry a book or other item outside the pack.

  •  If the backpack is too heavy on a regular basis, consider using a book bag on wheels if your child’s school permits these.

  •  Distribute weight evenly by using both straps. Wearing a pack slung over one shoulder can cause a child to lean to one side, curving the spine and causing pain and discomfort.

  •  Select a backpack with well-padded shoulder straps. Shoulders and necks have many blood vessels and nerves that can cause pain and tingling in the neck, arms, and hands when too much pressure is applied.

  •  Adjust the shoulder straps so that the pack fits snugly on the child’s back. A pack that hangs loosely from the back can pull the child backward and strain muscles.

  •  Adjust the shoulder straps so that the pack fits snugly on the child’s back. A pack that hangs loosely from the back can pull the child backward and strain muscles.

  •  The bottom of the pack should rest in the curve of the lower back. It should never rest more than four inches below the child’s waistline.

  •  School backpacks come in different sizes for different ages. Choose the right size pack for your child as well as with enough room for necessary school items.

  •  Just as your child will try on clothes and shoes, it is important to try on backpacks, too.

  •  A child who wears a backpack incorrectly or carries a backpack that is too heavy is at risk for discomfort, fatigue, muscle soreness, and musculoskeletal pain especially in the lower back.

  •  More than 2,000 backpack-related injuries are treated annually at hospital emergency rooms, doctor’s offices, and clinics.

“Don’t let your child become a part of these statistics,” said Dr. Radcliffe. “Make sure your child tells you if they are in pain or have discomfort from wearing their backpack, before a serious problem occurs.”

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