The ABCs of Backpacks
More than 40 million students head off to class each day with backpacks slung over their shoulders. About 20 million of those students are carrying twice the recommended weight on the back which can lead to stress injuries and spinal pain that can worsen with age.
According to a survey conducted by the North American Spine Society, 42.6% of NASS member physicians have treated children or teens suffering from back pain or spine trauma caused by overloaded or improperly used backpacks. The diagnoses range from cervical, thoracic and lumbar strain to spondylolysis, a stress fracture in a vertebra.
To raise awareness of this issue, the spine care providers of the North American Spine Society came up with the ABC’s of Backpacking – tips for preventing backpack injuries.
A: Allow wheels
According to a survey of NASS spine specialists, 31.7% of those surveyed recommend using a backpack on wheels. This type of back pack is helpful if a child is already symptomatic or if parents anticipate that he/she will be carrying loads more than 25 lbs.
B: Back to basics
20.8% of the spine specialists polled recommend the traditional style backpack. If you opt for this style, make sure the pack has two thick, padded straps along with a waist strap for added lumbar support.
C: Comfort counts
30.7% of NASS members recommend that parents don’t buy the first back pack they see. It’s important to make sure the backpack feels comfortable to the child and the straps can be adjusted for a tight fit.
D: Don’t overload
Whatever backpack style parents choose for their children, it’s important to remember it's what’s inside that really counts! In fact, 64% of those surveyed claim that overloading the pack is the number one way children and teens improperly use their backpacks. All of the doctors surveyed agreed that the size of the pack should be proportionate to the child, NOT to the size of the items he will be carrying.
E: Everything is too much
Pack only what you need! NASS members recommend that the pack should weigh no more than 10-15% of the child’s body weight.
F: Fit your frame
Always use both straps and adjust them snugly on your shoulders.
G: Get organized
Organize the pack so the heavy items are closest to your back. Use smaller compartments to help store loose items and distribute the weight evenly.
H: Heavy hurts!
Don’t carry more than you can handle. Make frequent stops to unload the pack. Encourage your child not to carry all the books they will need for the day.
Former NASS President Joel Press, MD, a leading physiatrist at the Chicago Rehabilitation Institute, says, “When used properly, backpacks are a great way for kids to carry their schoolbooks and supplies they need throughout the day. Parents should be sure and ask their children if they feel any pain in the back or the neck. And, if a child is experiencing discomfort, be sure and take it seriously and see a specialist.”
If parents are concerned about the heavy school loads children and teens are carrying on a daily basis, they can also:
- Contact the school and work with teachers to identify ways to lighten the load.
- Ask for a second set of books – one set for home and the other to be left at school (another cost effective option is to make photocopies of the week’s book chapters at the library).
- Encourage children to be active and to strengthen the muscles in and around the back and neck to protect and aid in injury prevention.