Back to School

How to avoid your children being crushed by their backpacks.

The Problem…

There has been a lot of concern of late about the potential problems with our children carrying heavier and heavier backpacks to school. Studies indicate that it’s not uncommon for kids to be carrying packs weighing up to 30% of their body weight. To give you a reference point, that’s like a 50-pound load for a 150-pound male and 40 pounds for a 130-pound female. If you haven’t carried a backpack that heavy in a while, you’ll have to take my word for it. That’s very heavy. Studies also indicate that of those carrying loads up to 22% of their body weight, 60% report low back pain. Shoulder and neck complaints are also very common.

Some Solutions…

Pick the Right Pack

Size – Make sure to try it on at the store. It should be adjustable so that it rests on the mid-back with the bottom of the pack no more than 2-4 inches below the waist.  

Shoulder Straps – The pack should have curved and padded shoulder straps that are adjustable. Waist and sternal straps are a bonus and will help distribute the weight more evenly.

Solid Material – Backpacks have a rough life often being kicked, tossed, and generally abused on a daily basis. Pick one that is made of solid material so you wont be purchasing another one mid-way through the school year.

Multiple Compartments – The pack should have separate compartments to store non-book related objects like pencils, pens, etc. This keeps them from being to close to the spine and causing friction.

Wear the Pack Properly

Use Both Shoulder Straps- Back in the day it was cool to sling the pack over one shoulder.  This was partly due to the fact that all that was in the pack was a Pee Chee. If you don’t know what a Pee Chee is, I apologize. Unfortunately, those days are now gone and with the heavy loads that kids are now carrying, using one shoulder strap is not cool. It’s not even smart, and all of our patients are smart, so use two straps.

Tighten the Shoulder Straps – Adjust the straps so that the pack is riding snuggly against the middle back. If the straps are too loose there will be space between the pack and the upper back causing a forward lean. If it’s too tight, it will be difficult to take off so make sure there is room to easily get in and out.

Preventing Injury

Organize daily and only pack what’s needed for the day.

Pack the heaviest items (the biggest books) close to the spine to decrease the load – the farther the load is from the center of gravity (the spine) the heavier it becomes.

As the load in the pack increases, consider carrying the heaviest book in your hand or folded across the chest to serve as a counter balance.

Use Proper Lifting Habits

Most back injuries occur when violating the BLT rule. What is the BLT rule you ask? Never Bend Lift and Twist all at the same time. This is the recipe for a back injury. Kind of like adding water to dirt makes…mud - every time. Center up with the load, get tall, brace the core and lift with the knees and especially the hips where the strongest muscles of the body are housed (the gluts).

If the pack is more than 15% of your child’s body weight, take action

Talk to the school and or your child’s teacher.

A couple of options are: have multiple copies of heavy books so one is at home and one at school, ask for additional time between classes so that they can actually use their locker (if they have one). It’s not only the weight of the pack but also the distance it’s being carried or “Time Under Load” that is important in preventing injury.

Get Stronger!

I’m also a firm believer in personal responsibility and I think kids are often times out of shape, so in addition to getting help from the school, how about Getting Stronger?

Perform planks on a regular basis

Front and side planks are the safest and best exercise to improve core strength. As always, form is critical. Get tall, brace the core and squeeze the gluts. Shoot for five reps of five good breaths. Test how long they can hold after four weeks. Thirty seconds without shaking would be a minimum, a minute even better.

Stand tall

The key is not to let the pack dominate the packer. Think tall and thin and resist the weight of the load pulling you back or to the side. Keep in mind that adaptation takes time and what might be easier for a varsity athlete will be considerable more challenging for lighter and less conditioned individuals

Bottom Line

Backpacks are getting ridiculously heavy for many to carry around on a regular basis. Buy a good pack, fit it properly, load it properly, and lift/un-lift it properly, to help avoid injury. Take the approach of getting stronger to handle the requirements of school with good posture and regular core exercises. Ask for help either at school to make accommodations or here at Kent Sport & Spine. We are here to help you.


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