Friday, September 14, 2007


School backpacks can become a pain in the neck

As students start loading up on classes, watch out for heavy backpacks. Although they are popular and practical, when used incorrectly backpacks can cause problems for children and teens, injuring muscles and joints, which can lead to neck and back pain.
A maximum of 15 percent of body weight is what should go into a backpack. That means if your child weighs 80 pounds, he or she should carry 12 pounds or less in the backpack. Make sure that during the school day children have use of a locker or cubby for their books and have time to get there between classes. Also, students should consider what books they specifically need for homework, rather than bringing everything home every night.
Students also need to be careful about tripping over backpacks, so make sure they are not in an aisle or walkway. Some injuries are caused by tripping and falling, inadvertant hitting with backpacks or hand injuries from reaching into the backpack and being stabbed by pens or pencils.
Other backpack safety tips include:
• Choose a backpack with wide, padded shoulder straps and a padded back.
• Pack light. Organize the backpack to use all of its compartments. Pack heavier items closest to the center of the back. The backpack should never weigh more than 10 to 15 percent of the student's body weight.
• Always use both shoulder straps. Slinging a backpack over one shoulder can strain muscles. Wearing a backpack on one shoulder may also increase curvature of the spine. If the backpack has a waist strap, use it for heavier loads. Also tighten the straps so the pack is close to the body. They should hold the pack about two inches above the waist.
• When bending down, use both knees. Do not bend over at the waist when wearing or lifting a heavy backpack. You can also ask your pediatrician for advice about strengthening exercises.
• Consider a rolling backpack. This type of backpack may be a good choice for students who must tote a heavy load. Remember that rolling backpacks still must be carried up stairs, and they may be difficult to roll in snow.
• Parents should encourage their child or teenager to let them know about any pain or discomfort that may be caused by a heavy backpack. Ask your pediatrician for advice if there are problems. Parents also can consider buying an extra set of some textbooks to keep at home.

To learn more about backpack safety, go to Backpack Safety America at or the American Academy of Pediatrics

Ravi Prakash, MD, is Chief of Pediatrics at Backus Hospital with a private pediatric office in Norwich. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Dr. Prakash and all of the Healthy Living columnists at

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