Beating Backpack Back Pain

Experts offer safety tips for kids returning to school

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SUNDAY, Aug. 29, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Students who wear their backpacks improperly or carry too much in them can suffer neck, shoulder and back pain and compromise their posture and breathing, says the American Occupational Therapy Association.

The association offers the following advice on how students can prevent backpack-related health problems:

  • Never let a child carry more than 15 percent of his or her body weight.
  • The heaviest items should be loaded closest to the child's back. Position books and other materials in a way that prevents them from sliding.
  • Always wear both shoulder straps. Wearing only one backpack strap can cause a child to lean to one side, curving the spine and causing discomfort or pain.
  • The backpack should have well-padded shoulder straps to prevent too much pressure on the shoulders and necks, which can result in tingling and pain.

  • Adjust the shoulder straps so the pack fits snugly to the child's back. The bottom of the pack should rest in the curve of the child's lower back and should never be more than 4 inches below the waistline.
  • If the backpack has a waist belt, encourage your child to use it. The waist belt helps distribute the pack's weight more evenly.
  • Check to make sure your child is carrying only necessary items in the backpack.
  • If your child's school allows it, consider a book bag on wheels if your child's backpack is too heavy.
  • Select the proper size backpack for your child's back.
  • If your child experiences back or neck pain, consult your doctor or occupational therapist.

"Parents should be 'pack partners' with their kids, helping pick the right size backpack and teaching them how to load and carry it," Karen Jacobs, a clinical professor and backpack and school ergonomic researcher at Boston University, said in a prepared statement.

"Kids who keep stuffing their packs wind up carrying nearly as many pounds on their backs as they weigh, which could have long-term health consequences," Jacobs said.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about backpack safety.

SOURCE: American Occupational Therapy Association, news release, Aug. 17, 2004

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