August is a wonderful month here in Michigan, and it has long served as a “buffer” between the summer and the beginning of the school year for my own family. But, with each passing year, August seems to get shorter and shorter.
Ah yes, believe it or not, summer is truly fleeting, and while some of the pre-season sports camps, tryouts, and practices are already in the works, we can bank on the fact that classes are soon to be back in session before we parents can blink.
With the fall sports season about to be in full swing as well, this time of year certainly gives me a plethora of sports medicine topics to talk about. But just for once, I’m going to focus on the academic end of things. Not everybody plays sports, but pretty much everyone carries a backpack.
Looking back to the last school year, did any of your children complain about aches and pains that were likely related to carrying around their heavy backpacks? If you answered “yes” to this question, or if you simply want to prevent problems in the future, you might want to read the following backpack safety tips.
When used correctly, backpacks can be an excellent way to carry the necessities of the school day. They are designed to distribute the weight of the load among some of the body’s strongest muscles, called the core muscles. Generally speaking, backpacks are a great way for our kids to tote their stuff around school and town.
However, when backpacks are worn improperly, they can cause neck, shoulder, and back problems, as well as posture issues. When I see some of these little kids lugging around big heavy backpacks, especially when they are carrying the pack the wrong way,
I worry that this could be a setup for problems that could persist into adulthood. As with any overuse injury, too much of something, especially when done the wrong way, can lead to inflammation, pain, and even chronic issues.
To decrease the risks of using backpacks, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons gives the following recommendations:
When choosing a backpack for your child, look for the following:
- Wide, padded shoulder straps: Narrow straps can dig into shoulders, causing pain and restricting circulation.
- Two shoulder straps: Backpacks with one shoulder strap that runs across the body cannot distribute weight evenly.
- Padded back: A padded back protects against sharp edges on objects inside the pack and increases comfort.
- Waist strap: A waist strap can distribute the weight of a heavy load more evenly.
- Lightweight backpack: The backpack itself should not add much weight to the load. Some of today’s backpacks have so many “bells and whistles” attached that they become too heavy to be effective.
When wearing a backpack, your child should:
- Always use both shoulder straps. Slinging a backpack over one shoulder can strain muscles.
- Tighten the straps so that the pack is close to the body. The straps should hold the pack two inches above the waist.
- Pack light. The backpack should never weigh more than 20% of the student’s total body weight.
- Pack heavier items closest to the center of the back.
- Stop often at school lockers and remove items you don’t need, if possible. Do not carry all the books needed for the day.
- Bend using both knees when you bend down. Do not bend over at the waist when wearing or lifting a heavy backpack.
- Learn back-strengthening exercises to build up the muscles used to carry a backpack.
- Consider a rolling backpack. This type of backpack may be a good choice for students who must tote a heavy load. Remember that rolling backpacks must be carried upstairs.
A couple of extra tips:
- Encourage your child or teenager to tell you about any pain or discomfort that may be caused by a heavy backpack. Don’t ignore back or neck pain in a child or teenager.
- Ensure that the school allows students to stop at their lockers throughout the day.
- Consider buying a second set of textbooks for your student to keep at home.
To ensure your child is wearing their backpack correctly this year, follow the simple advice above, and don’t forget to have a great school year!
Dr. Joseph Guettler is an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in sports medicine, as well as surgery of the knee, shoulder, and elbow. His office is located in Bingham Farms, MI. Visit www.miorthosurgeons.com for more information on Dr. Guettler and his practice, Michigan Orthopaedic Surgeons.