Think 'Light' Going Back to School

Spine society urges parents, kids to avoid backpack-related injuries

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SUNDAY, Aug. 13, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- With the new school year just around the corner, it's time for parents and children to start thinking about backpack safety.

The North American Spine Society (NASS) offers the following tips on how to prevent backpack-related problems and injuries:

  • Pack light. The loaded pack should not weigh more than 10 percent to 15 percent of the child's body weight. As a general rule, backpacks should weigh about five to 10 pounds for elementary students and no more than 15 pounds for older students.
  • Organize the pack so that heavy items are close to the wearer's back. Use the pack's smaller compartments to store loose items. Distribute the weight evenly.
  • Always use both straps and adjust them snugly on the shoulders. Readjust the straps every time the pack is loaded in order to ensure that the weight is properly supported.
  • Educate children about backpack safety and the risk of neck and spine injuries due to improper backpack use.
  • Encourage children to practice proper posture while they're wearing a backpack. In addition, children should be active in order to strengthen the muscles in and around the back and neck.

Parents who are concerned about the heavy loads their children are carrying can:

  • Contact the school and work with teachers to identify ways to lighten the load.
  • Purchase two sets of school books -- one set for home and the other to be left at school. A less costly option is to make photocopies of the week's book chapters at the library.

"When used properly, backpacks are a great way for kids to carry their schoolbooks and supplies. Parents should ask their children if they feel any pain in the back or the neck. And, if a child is experiencing discomfort in their neck or back or tingling in their hands, be sure to take it seriously and see a specialist," Dr. Joel Press, NASS president, said in a prepared statement.

More information

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has more about backpack safety.

SOURCE: North American Spine Society, news release, August 2006

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