How much is too much?
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends that your child should not carry an excess of 15 to 20 percent of his or her weight. If you want to be extra cautious, 10 percent of your child's weight can be a conservative estimate.
What can a heavy backpack do to my child?
- One problem seen in 4 to 6 percent of school children complaining of back pain is spondylolysis, which is a stress fracture in the back that can be treated with anti-inflammatory medications.
- Children also experience apophysitis, which is an inflammation of growth cartilage, often in the heel.
- Kids also might experience different posture problems. With a heavy backpack, many children end up leaning too far forward, rolling their shoulders and giving themselves a more rounded upper-back posture. They then tilt their head up so as to be able to see properly. This posture strains the back and neck muscles, and can possibly cause nerve damage in the neck.
- Your child might also lean backward from the weight, which can alter the sway of the back and cause stress fractures in the spine.
- If your child wears their bag only on one shoulder, he or she might walk tilted to one side and experience neck pain.
- If the straps on the bag are too small they can dig into the neck and shoulder muscles and potentially cause nerve damage in that area.
How can I tell if my child is experiencing back pain?
- The biggest warning sign is if he or she is complaining of back pain.
- Another is if your child's posture changes once wearing the backpack. For instance, if your child leans forward, backward or to the side, that means something is wrong.
- In addition, excessive redness on pressure points such as the shoulders means the bag is too heavy.
Can these problems be corrected?
If caught early enough and habits are changed, back pain can be reduced or eliminated. If your child has had a previous back injury and lightens his backpack load, pain from his or her previous injury can be reduced, as well. If you suspect your child is having back problems, consult a doctor to see what therapies or changes are needed to ease him or her of any pain. Carrying heavy loads can cause bigger problems down the road if not corrected early on.
What is the best way to carry a backpack?
First, make sure your child is carrying the right backpack.
- Buy a backpack that has two shoulder straps, NOT a single-strap that goes over one shoulder and across the chest. Single-strap backpacks may look more fashionable, but they put the entire burden on one shoulder.
- It helps if the shoulder straps are padded.
- A bag with a waist belt will also distribute the weight evenly between the hips.
- A bag with a padded back will add extra protection.
- Before you buy a backpack that rolls on wheels, consider whether your child's school has a lot of stairs, and if it will be easy to drag through the snow.
Next, make sure your child carries the backpack properly.
- Your child should not pack an excess of 15 to 20 percent of his or her weight (10 percent, if you want to be more cautious).
- Always use both shoulder straps, not just one.
- If the backpack has pockets, use them all to distribute the weight evenly.
- Make sure the weight isn't all to one side.
- The straps should be adjusted so that the bag rests at the middle of the back. If they are too tight, it will be difficult to get the bag off, and if they are too loose, it will result in your child leaning back too far.
- If your child has a locker, make sure he or she uses it. A backpack should only carry what will be needed immediately.
- If your child's backpack starts getting heavy, it's okay to carry one or two books by hand.