Books, tablets, lunch: Stuff can really start to weigh heavily in your kid’s school backpack.
And so experts at the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) are offering tips on backpack safety to parents as a new school year begins.
That’s because heavy and improperly worn backpacks can trigger back, neck and shoulder-related pain in children, the group says. In fact, in 2018, almost 51,000 people were seen for backpack-related injuries at emergency departments, doctors’ offices and clinics, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
“Back pain due to improperly wearing and overloading a backpack is a common symptom,” AAOS spokesperson Dr. Afshin Razi, an orthopedic spine surgeon, said in an academy news release. “To limit injuries or back pain, encourage your children to limit the load and utilize both padded straps for proper posture and weight distribution.”
Ideally, healthy children with a normal body weight should not carry more than 10%-20% of their body weight in a backpack.
Always have kids use both shoulder straps when carrying a backpack, so that the weight is distributed more evenly across the back. Tighten backpack straps to keep the load closer to the back, as well. The bottom of the backpack should sit at waist level, the AAOS said.
Kids should carry only items that are required for the school day, and heavier items should be packed low and towards the center of the pack.
If you see that your child is struggling to put on or remove a backpack due to weight, have them remove some books and carry them in their arms.
It might also be necessary to talk to the school about lightening the book load the students have to carry in their backpacks. Getting other parents involved in that effort could help convince schools to make changes, the AAOS said.
School lockers are a good resource, of course, so encourage kids to stop at their lockers whenever possible, to drop off or exchange heavier books.
When lifting a backpack, bend at the knees.
Back or neck issues could still arise, and parents should encourage children to alert them about any numbness, tingling or discomfort in the arms or legs, which may indicate a poor backpack fit or too much weight.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has more on backpack safety.