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Bad backs and backpacks

While going to and from school many kids these days look like they have the weight of the world on their shoulders. Although it might not be quite so heavy, some kids actually do carry around a lot of weight in their backpacks. These heavy loads place stress on the spine and shoulders of children, causing muscle strain and fatigue. For some kids the aches and pains are bad enough to seek medical attention. In fact, more than 21,000 injuries related to backpacks were treated in 2002. Too much weight can also lead to bad habits such as poor posture and excessive slouching.

Unfortunately, doing homework and being prepared in class means carrying books back and forth between school and home. You can help your child lighten the load by teaching him or her organizational skills. By using folders for individual subjects your child can bring home just the work he needs for the day as opposed to lugging everything home. At school, encourage your child to take frequent trips in between classes to his or her locker to replace books.

You can also buy a suitable backpack and follow guidelines for proper use:

  • A backpack should not hang more than a few inches below the waist. The lower a backpack hangs, the more weight the shoulders must carry. Actually, a backpack that hangs two inches above the waist is the optimal fit, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.
  • Purchase a backpack with wide, padded shoulder straps to prevent the straps from digging into the shoulder.
  • Make sure your child uses both shoulder straps, firmly tightened. If your child uses one strap, all the weight is on one side of his or her back and this leads to lower back pain and muscles spasms.
  • A hip strap should be used when carrying heavy loads to distribute the weight evenly between the back and the hips.
  • The heaviest items should be packed close to the back.
  • When lifting a heavy pack, your child should remember to bend at the knees and use his or her legs to lift.
  • Don't overload the backpack. Your child should not carry more than 15%-20% of his or her weight.
  • Consider purchasing a backpack on wheels or an extra set of books for home.

By following these guidelines, you can help your child prevent some of the pains associated with lots of homework. And, hopefully, by establishing good habits your child will be able to avoid back pain later in life.

January 2004 Update

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