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School Backpacks Can Be a Real Pain

Expert offers tips on sparing kids' spines

SATURDAY, Aug. 13, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Backpacks are a convenient and efficient way for children to carry school books and other items, but if overloaded or improperly worn they can harm children's backs, experts warn.

"Wearing backpacks improperly or ones that are too heavy put children at increased risk for spinal injury," Mary Ann Wilmarth, director of the transitional doctor of physical therapy degree at Northeastern University in Boston, said in a prepared statement.

"Back pain is already the most common ailment among working American adults. If we don't correct the backpack issues that are causing children back pain, the issue will become magnified in years to come," Wilmarth said.

She offers the following advice for safe backpack use:

  • Use both straps. Using just one strap means that one side of the body has to bear the entire weight of the backpack. Wearing both straps means that the weight is more evenly distributed.
  • Load up with care. When taking backpacks on and off, kids should keep their torsos stable and avoid excessive twisting. Shoulder straps should be adjusted so that the child can easily put on and take off the backpack and have free movement of their arms.
  • Don't go too low. The backpack should be worn over the strongest mid-back muscles and rest evenly in the middle of the back. It should not extend below the lower back.
  • Stay light. Keep the backpack load at just 10 percent to 15 percent or less of a child's weight. Heaviest items should be placed closest to the back in order to reduce risks for postural misalignment and overworked muscles.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about backpack safety.

SOURCE: American Physical Therapy Association, news release, July 26, 2005
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