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How to Prioritize Backpack Safety This School Year

While this school year looks different for most families, student safety has never been more critical. And with September 16 being National School Backpack Awareness Day, now is the perfect time to explore the topic of backpacks and how they affect our children.

The Importance of Proper Backpack Use

Have you ever picked up your child’s backpack and been mortified by how heavy and clunky it was? While school curriculums are definitely moving into the digital age, this shift has done little to lighten the load of the books our students lug around each weekday.

“Though it may seem like a minor annoyance, carrying around too much weight and/or wearing a backpack improperly can wreak havoc on your student’s body – negatively impacting muscles and joints in the back, neck, and shoulder regions,” says Palmetto Bone & Joint’s Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation specialist, Jacquelyn Van Dam, MD.

In one study, researchers scanned the backs of students between the ages of 11 and 13 carrying backpacks that accounted for 10% to 30% of their body weight. The results showed that kids with heavier backpacks were prone to experience disc compression. They also noticed some lumbar asymmetry, otherwise known as lower back curvature.

In a separate study published in Science Daily, researchers discovered that heavy loads carried on a student’s back during their formative years can damage soft tissues in the shoulder region. This leads to microstructural damage to the nerves. In minor cases, this damage causes pain and discomfort. In severe cases, it’s shown to limit dexterity of the hand and fingers.

In other words, backpacks are more important than we realize. And if you want to keep your children safe and protect their future health, it’s necessary to choose the right backpacks and provide instruction on how to wear them.

Choosing an Ergonomic Backpack

The first step in improving backpack safety is to select an ergonomic backpack that’s designed to fit your child. When choosing a backpack, look for as many of the following features as possible:

The backpack should be as lightweight as possible. (Compare backpacks without any books inside to accurately compare multiple options.)

There should be two shoulder straps. (Sling-style backpacks are not recommended.)

The shoulder straps should be wide and sufficiently padded.

Look for backpacks with as much padding on the back as possible.

Backpacks with waist straps provide additional support.

Ultimately, a rolling backpack is the most ergonomically-friendly option. But if your student is averse to using a roller model, looking for a model with the elements mentioned above will provide optimum benefits.

5 Backpack Injury Prevention Tips for Parents

As a parent, you can encourage your child on how to use and wear a backpack to diminish their chances of hurting tender muscles and joints during their formative years. Here are a few useful injury prevention tips to keep in mind:

1. Keep the Weight Down

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a child’s backpack shouldn’t weigh more than 10% to 20% of their body weight. When this limit is exceeded, there’s an increased risk of strain or injury.

2. Always Use Both Straps

Always encourage your student to use both shoulder straps when carrying a backpack. This evenly distributes the weight across the entirety of the back, as opposed to having it all concentrated at one pressure point.

3. Keep the Backpack Organized

Items should be organized so that the heavier ones – like large textbooks – are stored at the center or bottom of the backpack. Lighter items should go on top.

4. Encourage Locker Use

If your student attends a school with lockers, encourage your child to make stops in between classes (and before heading home at the end of the day). This limits the amount of weight they have to carry around throughout the school day.

5. Check in With Your Child

Always check in with your child to see how they’re feeling. Don’t ignore any back pain that a child or teenager mentions. Tingling or discomfort in arms or legs is a sign of an ill-fitting or improper backpack. These issues should be dealt with right away.

Palmetto Bone & Joint is Here for You

Have specific questions regarding the best ways to protect your child’s sensitive bones and joints? Palmetto Bone & Joint is here to help. Please don’t hesitate to contact our office today!


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