“Back” to School

School time means backpack time.  Does your child know how to protect his or her back while toting a load?  Take this quick quiz to see what you know and what you can learn about backpack safety.

Why do backpacks matter?  For the same reason that posture matters when you are working on the computer: you can do lifelong damage to your neck and spine if you do not take proper precautions.  We talked with Jaclyn Bradley, PT, DPT, of Generation Care to find out what you should know about kids and backpacks.

True or False: Weight doesn’t really matter if you are wearing a backpack.

False (especially for early elementary children)!  The American Occupational Therapy Association recommends no more than 10 percent of a child’s body weight be carried on the back.  That’s especially important for early elementary-age children.  Those young joints have not yet solidified, and they can be damaged by too much weight.  Just to put that in perspective…a 6-year-old who weighs 50 pounds should carry no more than the equivalent of a bag of flour on his or her back.

True or False: All backpacks are basically the same.

False!  An ergonomically- correct backpack should have a chest strap and a hip strap.  The weight should be close to the back and fitted snugly for best support.  If your backpack doesn’t have these straps (or if your child doesn’t use them), the weight is not supported correctly.

True or False: One size fits all.

False!  A backpack should sit below the shoulders and above the hips.  That means a full-size adult backpack is far too large for a young student, or for a child with a petite frame.  Higher-quality backpack manufacturers offer sizing choices so that you can get the right fit. (You can find a great chart for sizing backpacks here.

True or False: A standard backpack is the only option.

False again!  More and more manufacturers are making backpack models with wheels and telescoping handles (think roll aboard suitcase). These are great for sidewalks or halls, although they can present a challenge with stairs.  Your child has to be able to lift the backpack and carry it over the occasional obstacle.  Still, this might be an excellent option for students who have large loads that they cannot conveniently change out at a locker between classes.

“Kids can start to have back pain and neck pain if they are wearing the wrong backpack or weighing it down too heavily,” Jaclyn notes.  “Posture is also very important.  We see a lot of kids in our office who don’t sit up straight, or who don’t pull their shoulder blades down and back.  Good posture and core strength help kids carry additional weight without injury.”

If your child starts exhibiting neck pain, headaches or back pain shortly after school starts, don’t wait.  Ask your pediatrician for a referral to physical therapy.  You can prevent lifelong damage, and also get some help in making changes that will lead to healthier, happier children!

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