Parents: Backpacks shouldn't break backs

Backpacks can cause physical problems for children if they're not properly monitored.

August 16, 2011 

The words parents love and many kids hate: back to school. Along with buying the requisite school supplies, it might be time to take a closer look at what carries those supplies -- the backpack.

Backpacks have been popular with schoolchildren for decades and always have been intended to make a student's life easier. But, sometimes that's not the case.

Some physicians are concerned about the dangers of overloaded backpacks causing injury to students' backs. According to The Consumer Product Safety Commission, an estimated 7,000 students visit emergency rooms each year as a result of injuries related to book bags.

Physical therapists are seeing children coming to them with pain, numbness and tingling caused by their backpacks, but the good news is that there are a number of behavioral changes to prevent the problem from starting.

Maggie Mulcahy, a Hilton Head Hospital pediatric occupational therapist, recommends that to help prevent injury, parents should be careful about how they pack their child's backpack and how their child wears it. Her suggestions include:

  • Weight. A child should not carry more than 15 percent of his weight in a backpack. Decide what really is necessary in that backpack and what can be left in lockers at school or at home.

  • Both shoulders. The healthiest option for children is to wear a book bag over both shoulders to equally disperse the weight across the back. Wearing a backpack or messenger bag over only one shoulder can cause strain on one side of the spine and strain the muscles on the other side. Using only one shoulder can, over time, cause the spine to curve.

  • Proper loading. Heaviest objects need to be closest to the spine and toward the bottom of the pack. This helps the pack stay close to the child's natural center of gravity and move better with the child.

  • If a child is experiencing back issues of an unusual nature, such as numbness or tingling, Mulcahy advises parents contact their personal pediatric physician for an examination.

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