Got a Heavy Backpack Lighten Up

When your child acts as if she is carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders, maybe you should check her backpack. Overloaded or poorfitting backpacks can hurt girls and boys, alike.

“If the child is straining or slouching, that is a sign the pack is too heavy,” says Raymond Liu, MD, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. “You can often lighten the load by ensuring that kids do not carry any unnecessary items in their packs.”

Children can hurt themselves by using poor postures — arching the back, bending forward, twisting or leaning to one side — while hefting a heavy backpack. Such postures can skew the spine’s alignment so its disks can not absorb shocks as they should.

Overloaded backpacks also place stress on muscles and soft tissues. That causes fatigue and strain, increasing the risk of neck, shoulder and back injuries and even nerve damage.

Experts offer these tips for parents and children:

  • Pick a lightweight backpack with two wide, padded shoulder straps, a padded back and a waist strap, which can help distribute the load.
  • Use both straps to spread the weight and promote good posture. Using one strap means one side of the body bears most of the weight.
  • Take care when putting on and taking off backpacks. Avoid twisting too much. When bending to pick up a heavy backpack, bend with both knees, not at the waist. Position the backpack evenly in the middle of the back, near the body’s center of gravity. The backpack should sit two inches above the waist.
  • Adjust the shoulder straps so the backpack can easily be put on and taken off. The straps should permit free arm movement without being too loose.
  • Limit the load to 10 to 15 percent or less of the child’s body weight.
  • Load the heaviest items closest to the child’s back. Use all the compartments to spread the weight.
  • Make frequent school locker stops to remove items that are not needed right away. “You may want to consider a rolling backpack or luggage cart,” Dr. Liu says. Remember that rolling backpacks must be carried up stairs.

liu-raymond Raymond Liu, MD
Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeon
UH Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital

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