OK, so kids may not be carrying the weight of the world’s worries, but a heavy backpack on a young child is something to worry about.
“Heavy, ill-fitting backpacks not only cause back, neck and shoulder pain, but sometimes numbness and tingling in the arms and hands can occur when narrow straps dig into the shoulders,” said Brian Wienk, PT, ScD, COMT, Avera Physical Therapist. “A heavy backpack may affect a young child’s balance, increasing the risk of a fall.”
Using only one strap puts unnecessary strain on the child’s musculoskeletal alignment. Usually, he or she will compensate for the weight of the backpack by lowering one shoulder and raising one hip higher.
“You’ll also see kids leaning forward at the waist, which may strain back or neck muscles and often results in a forward head posture,” said Wienk.
One common concern among parents is the risk of scoliosis, or a curve in the spine. Wienk stressed that heavy backpacks don’t cause scoliosis.
Knowing how much your child’s body can safely carry is a good place to start.
“According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, carrying 10 to 20 percent of the child’s weight is acceptable,” said Wienk. Because younger children have less muscle strength, Wienk recommends aiming toward the lower end of the scale. That means if a child is 60 pounds, his backpack should only weigh about 12 pounds, and more preferably, 6 pounds.
Here are more tips for managing heavy backpacks and preventing symptoms:
- Invest in a backpack with wider, padded straps. Avoid rolling backpacks which are hard to maneuver on steps and can cause kids to trip.
- Make sure your child wears both straps over the shoulders instead of one.
- Adjust the backpack so it sits center of your child’s back — not too high and not too low.
- Teach your child to place textbooks and heavier objects in the bag so they sit closer to his or her back. This distributes the load evenly and supports his or her center of gravity.
- Fasten the waist belt around the tummy. This ensures the backpack stays close to your child’s body.
- Encourage your child to exercise regularly to build up abdominal, buttock and back strength.
- Remind your child to stand tall and sit tall. Be a role model, and demonstrate these actions yourself.
- Talk to the teacher. He or she can help your child decide which books and materials are needed for homework — rather than grabbing everything!
If your child complains about pain, numbness or tingling, see an expert.
“Physical therapists are movement specialists trained to examine posture, range of motion, muscle strength and balance. We prescribe patient-specific exercises to rehabilitate and strengthen back and neck muscles,” said Wienk. “Avera uses a team approach, meaning you’re connected to spine rehabilitation experts, pain management physicians and surgeons, if needed.”
This year, start school right by resolving backpack drama early so your child can focus on learning and friendships.