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UPMC Susquehanna – Backpack Safety

by UPMC Susquehanna - August 20, 2019

Maybe you once carried what felt like a locker on your back. Or maybe you’re a parent watching your child carrying a backpack that’s half their size. Either way, it’s a cause for concern: Back pain from backpacks is highly common. Today, Mindy Hanawalt, physical therapist at UPMC Susquehanna, shares her expertise concerning backpack safety.

Kids are preparing to head back to school and soon they’ll be lugging around their books and homework. It seems like children of all ages are carrying around too much in their backpacks – whether it’s homework or otherwise. The American Physical Therapy Association says as many as 55% of students carry a backpack too heavy for them, and one-third require a visit to the doctor, missed school, or limited physical activities because of back pain. This is so concerning because children are still growing, and their bodies cannot handle the extra stress of these loads.

Doctors recommend that backpack weight should be between 10-15 percent of a person’s total body weight. Carrying excessive weight in a backpack for five days a week can bring back and posture problems. Some of these might include:
– Lower back or rib pain
– Neck strain
– Distortion or strain of natural spine curvature
– Rounded shoulders
– Upset balance

There’s an easy way to tell if your child’s backpack is too heavy.
These signs of injury from an overweight backpack include:
– A change in your child’s posture when wearing the backpack.
– Difficulty putting on or taking off the backpack.
– Pain when the backpack is on your child’s back properly.
– Tingling or numbness in arms and legs (mostly arms) after wearing the backpack for an extended period of time.
– Red marks on the shoulders.

If you see any of these symptoms, it’s time to talk with your doctor. You doctor may recommend you talk to a rehabilitation specialist to assess your child for issues with posture and recommend a treatment plan.

As much as children would love to outlaw homework, it’s not realistic and homework is beneficial to a child’s brain development. What’s more realistic is for parents to make sure that their children are using the right backpack and that they are only bringing home in it what is necessary. If you feel that your child’s homework level is concerning, speak to their teacher. Your child may have a lot of homework or they simply may not be packing their bag with the appropriate items.

If their homework load is heavy, you can work with the teacher on an alternative solution such as extra time to complete work at school.
Additionally, lessen the weight or strain of the pack to start with by:
– Purchase a wheeling backpack
– Using eBooks
– Making photocopies of needed pages only over entire books

No amount of homework is worth your child’s health and safety, and many teachers will work with you to address your concerns.

Even a properly weighted pack can still cause problems if it’s not worn properly. Making sure that your children wear their backpacks properly can help prevent pain and posture problems.
Follow these backpack safety tips below to help your children wear their backpacks safely and correctly and avoid over packing this school year:
– Chose a bag with wide padded shoulder straps to help spread the load, a padded back, and multiple compartments.
– Always wear both straps
– Avoid extra weight by choosing a bag made of lightweight materials
– Use a waist strap if the bag is equipped with one to help shift some of the load to the hips
– Remember, 15% of the child’s weight or less.

If your child is experiencing back pain from carrying a backpack, avoid using a backpack to prevent further strain. Again, speak to your child’s teachers about your concerns for their heavy homework loads. See your doctor about any severe pain that persists for longer than two days and your doctor may refer you to a specialist like myself, so we can work through a treatment plan for your child’s pain management.

If your child is showing signs of back pain or strain, speak to you primary care provider or pediatrician. For more information on backpack safety, visit UPMCSusquehanna.org.

Credits:

Videography: Andrew Moore
Video Editing: Andrew Moore
Writing: UPMC Susquehanna
Anchor: Sara Vogt
Correspondent: Rhonda Pearson

Produced by Vogt Media
Home Page Sponsors: UPMC Susquehanna