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How To Wear a Backpack Correctly

A backpack full of books is a familiar part of the back-to-school experience for most kids. But it's a burden that can cause big problems. Dr. Emily Senay talks to us about backpack safety and how to wear a backpack to promote good spinal health.

The kids are back in school and many are coming home with overloaded backpacks. Some students are carrying half their bodyweight on their backs and an increasing number of children are suffering from head, neck and shoulder pain.

Backpacks are supposed to make life easier for kids who have to get all those textbooks back and forth from home or from class to class. But when a student packs too many books into a backpack, it can result to pain and long-term health problems, especially for kids in the middle grades who are at a stage of fast growing. They are the most vulnerable to posture problems and pain in the shoulder and back.

Are there guidelines to follow when wearing a backpack

Yes. Let's first take a look at some of the common mistakes. A rule of thumb is that a child shouldn't try to carry more than ten to fifteen percent of his or her body weight in a backpack, which is ten or fifteen pounds for a hundred-pound child.

But sometimes you can tell when a child is carrying too much, by seeing the way a child is hunched forward with the strain. That hunching can cause damage to the spine and make a child vulnerable to a slipped disk or osteoarthritis in the future. Also, using only one of the straps can put too much strain on one side of the body and lead to posture problems. The third whammy is wearing the backpack low with the straps loosened. That puts undue strain on the shoulder.

What's the proper way to wear a backpack?

First you should choose a backpack that fits properly, and make sure it's not overloaded.

A child should use both shoulder straps to distribute the weight evenly and make sure the straps are snug but not too tight. Many backpacks these days have waist straps that will also help distribute the weight, and padded shoulder straps will help take the strain off the shoulders. Extra padding in the back can help even out the weight too. Heavier items should go into the lower part of the backpack, but make sure it's not top heavy.

Are there different rules for the newer backpack designs?

The rules are the same.

One design you might have seen recently is the sling backpack that goes over the shoulder, which is fine if you make sure you wear the backpack the way it is intended and don't overload it. The other option out there is probably the best when it comes to taking the weight off the back, and it's the rolling backpack. Children can avoid carrying any weight at all with this backpack.

What else should a child know about backpack safety?

Lifting the weight of the backpack properly is imprtant no matter how much it weighs. A child should face the backpack, bend down at the knees, check the weight, lift with the legs and apply one shoulder strap at a time. Never sling the pack over one shoulder.

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