Your Child’s Backpack Might Be Hurting Them

Textbooks, gym clothes, lunches, water bottles, laptop, pencils, notebooks… your child’s backpack is likely filled to the brim, and that may not be good for them. With textbooks weighing an average of 2-5 pounds each, the weight of your child’s backpack is heavy. How heavy? A 2004 study by the California Board of Education found that an average high school student’s bag weighs in between 16 and 24 pounds!

Health Impacts of Heavy Backpacks

All that weight may cause some unwanted health impacts. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, at least 14,000 children are treated for backpack-related injuries every year; and in 2013 alone, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission cited 5,415 backpack-related injuries treated at emergency rooms. A 2010 study of eight children published in the journal Spine found that heavier loads compressed the students’ spines. And another study found that backpacks heavier than 10% of a child’s total body weight can cause the back to lean one way or another, and that lighter backpacks could ease the strain on their spines.

Additionally, your child may complain of headaches and pain the neck, shoulders, and back—which are likely caused by lugging around those heavy bags. Researchers at the University of California, Riverside found that 64% of students reported having back pain and 2 of every 5 children felt pain at some time, all caused by their backpacks.

Is their bag too heavy?

Often, children will exhibit physical signs that their backpacks are too heavy. If kids grunt when putting on or taking off the backpack, have red marks on their shoulders from the straps, or if they complain that their shoulders, arms, or fingers are “falling asleep,” those packs might just be too heavy. If your child is complaining about their backpack, getting a new one that is a better shape or reducing the number of items being carried can help.

As noted above, your child’s backpack weight should not be more than 10-15% of their total body weight. Anything beyond that may lead to injury or pain. 

A Better Way to Carry

While your child may not know how to reduce the load in their backpack, take the time to go through its contents, removing items that aren’t regularly used or those that could be stored in a locker or classroom. Every ounce helps!

In addition, take care when selecting your child’s backpack. It’s tempting to go for the on-trend styles, but those bags do not always offer the padding and secure straps needed to evenly distribute the weight of its contents.

Dr. Karen Jacobs from the American Occupational Therapy Association, recommends choosing backpacks that are made of lightweight, durable materials, with two full padded shoulder straps, and a padded back. The bag should fit below the shoulder blades and stop just before the waist. Hip straps are also helpful for older students, as it helps evenly distribute the load of the bag. While useful, exterior pockets may encourage children to pack more items in their bag, so use caution. Consider a backpack with wheels if your child is open to a nontraditional bag style, keeping in mind the layout of their school.

How a backpack is packed and worn is just as important as how it fits. “Improperly used backpacks may injure muscles and joints and can lead to severe back, neck, and shoulder pain, as well as posture problems,” said orthopedic surgeon and American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons spokesperson Daniel Green, MD. Heavier items should be placed closest to the back to offer additional support. Consider using lightweight, fabric containers for lunch and school supply storage, steering clear of glass or other heavier materials. Encourage your child to use both shoulder straps instead of slinging the bag over just one shoulder. This will allow for even weight distribution and reduce the risk of pain or discomfort.

Ultimately, your child will decide what they want to carry and how they carry it. However, sometimes a simple, “Do you need that?” will help them shed a few unnecessary backpack pounds.

Your child’s health and comfort are of our utmost concern at NWPC. We’re here to help you as they grow and mature, from pediatrics and beyond, contact us for more information.

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