Parents: Pick the Right Backpack for Your Child

Healthnotes Newswire (September 27, 2007)—Back-to-school time is the perfect opportunity for parents to ensure that their children’s backpacks fit properly. According to the American Physical Therapy Association, backpacks that are too heavy or fit poorly can lead to muscle and soft tissue injuries especially in the neck, shoulders, and back.

The group provided the following warning signs that a child’s backpack may be too heavy: the child complaining of neck, shoulder, or back pain; numbness or tingling in the hands arms or legs; red marks across the shoulders; or a change in the child’s posture when wearing the backpack.

“The injuries that we tend to see are more chronic in nature rather than acute,” said Mary Ann Wilmarth, PT, DPT, MS, OCS, director of the Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy Program at Northeastern University in Boston Massachusetts. Wilmarth noted that students suffering from scoliosis or any type of curvature of the spine may experience a worsening of their condition with improper backpack use.

Wilmarth conducted a study of children in prekindergarten through ninth grade and found that changes in posture increased when the backpack weighed more than 15% of the child’s body weight. Changes in posture seemed to be most significant in prepubescent female students.

Safe backpack practices

Wilmarth recommends the following tips for proper backpack use:

• Keep the backpack as light as possible, carrying only those things that are necessary.

• Adjust the backpack’s load so that the heaviest items are closest to the child’s back.

• Use both straps rather than slinging the pack over one shoulder, and make sure the backpack rests evenly in the middle of the back.

• Maintain good posture when putting on and removing the backpack by standing in a stable position and avoiding too much twisting.

• Keep the pack’s weight less than 15% of the child’s weight.

Other recommendations include using padded shoulder straps; back, hip, and chest belts; and reflectors so that the child is easily seen. An assessment by a physical therapist, which includes educating children about proper backpack use, flexibility, strengthening, and stable posture, can also help students avoid injury.

“It is fine to wear backpacks, and it is often better to have a backpack as opposed to a different bag or pack that is not balanced on the body,” noted Wilmarth.

(American Physical Therapy Association, accessed September 2007:

Jane Hart, MD, board-certified in internal medicine, serves in a variety of professional roles including consultant, journalist, and educator. Dr. Hart, a Clinical Instructor at Case Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, writes extensively about health and wellness and a variety of other topics for nationally recognized organizations, Web sites, and print publications. Sought out for her expertise in the areas of integrative and preventive medicine, she is frequently quoted by national and local media. Dr. Hart is a professional lecturer for healthcare professionals, consumers, and youth and is a regular corporate speaker.

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