Friday, September 26, 2008

Backpacks Are Killing Our Kids' Backs!

Last week we had a post about the ultimate school backpack for our girls to help prevent back injury (scroll below for info on the Zuca bag). Well, our fears are not unfounded - according to the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), studies show that:
- More than half of students ages 9 to 20 reported chronic back pain related to backpacks
- Backpacks are believed to play at least some part in the lower back pain reported by almost 60% of older teens
- Back pain leads to more than 19 million doctor visits per year, according to the U.S. Department of Human Health and Services. (Source:

Our school nurse has sent home notices on preventing backpack-related injuries, and we just had to share. She recommends selecting a backpack based on the following criteria: lightweight materials, padded back and padded shoulder straps (at least 2 inches wide), waist belt/hip strap, individualized compartments, and wheels.
Her strategies for preventing back injury from backpacks include:
Loading the Backpack
• Keep the weight of the pack under 15% of your daughter’s bodyweight (e.g. if she weighs 100 pounds, the pack should weigh no more than 15 pounds) – multiply her weight x .15 to determine the maximum backpack weight.
• Pack heaviest items first, keeping them closest to her back.
• Use compartments to distribute weight evenly.
• Arrange items so they won’t move around inside the pack.
Monitoring the Weight of the Backpack
• Establish a routine to go through the backpack at least once per week to empty out unnecessary materials.
• Make sure your daughter is only transporting necessary materials to and from school. Are there books in the classroom that don’t need to be carried back and forth? Can homework be downloaded from a teacher web page instead?
• When possible, use spiral notebooks rather than binders..
• If your daughter must have binders, use 1-inch ring binders rather than 2-inch or 3-inch ring binders.
• Choose the smallest backpack that will meet her needs.
• When the backpack weighs more than 15% of your daughter’s bodyweight, have her carry a book in her hands to lighten the load on her back.
• If she is leaning forward when walking while wearing the backpack, it is too heavy.
• If possible, use a book bag with wheels.
Wearing a Backpack Correctly
• Have your daughter wear the backpack over both shoulders. Consistently carrying a backpack over one shoulder can strain back and neck muscles, cause muscle spasms and back pain, cause curving of the spine, and contribute to headaches and arm pain.
• Adjust the shoulder straps to fit the backpack snugly to your daughter’s body. She should NOT carry backpacks low near the buttocks or hanging loosely from her body, as this can pull her backwards and strain muscles.
• Use the chest strap to help keep shoulder straps in place.
• Wear the waist belt or hip strap to distribute the weight of the backpack more evenly (although this will be viewed by your daughter as “uncool”!)
(Sources: American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc., and )

We hope you find these tips helpful - we did.

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