In Greek mythology, Atlas was the Titan god of endurance and astronomy, condemned to hold up the sky for eternity. While our school-aged children may be using atlases in geography class, there is only so much of a load they should be allowed to carry safely in order to protect their growing spines.
Backpacks that are too heavy or are worn incorrectly can cause problems for children and teenagers. Improperly used backpacks may injure muscles and joints. This can lead to severe back, neck, and shoulder pain, as well as posture problems.
In order to distribute the weight of the packed bag effectively and safely, there are a few guidelines that all parents should be aware of when shopping for a new backpack.
- Shop at a sporting supplies store where the sales staff is trained in how to properly fit backpacks. A small or shorter child needs a different type of backpack than a larger or taller sibling.
- The waist strap that comes with most backpacks is not an accessory, and should be used. The waist strap allows for a more even distribution of the weight of the backpack’s contents. By using the strap, the bulk of the weight can be carried on the hip bones, rather than on the shoulders.
- You might notice your child “slinging” their backpack over one shoulder or another, and this is absolutely the improper way to use a backpack. Backpacks should be worn over both shoulders so that they place an even amount of stress on both sides of the spine. Look for wide, padded shoulder straps.
- Choose a backpack with different compartments so that when loading in school supplies and books, the weight of the contents can be distributed. Pack heavier items lower down and closer to the body.
- In order to further reduce the stress on the spine, consider a rolling backpack as an alternative.
Once you have purchased the backpack, you will still have to be alert to clues about the impact the daily load is having on your child. Here are a few tips to help you (and your child) through the school year:
- Encourage your child or teenager to tell you about numbness, tingling, or discomfort in the arms or legs which may indicate poor backpack fit or too much weight being carried.
- Watch your child put on or take off the backpack to see if it is a struggle. If the backpack seems too heavy for the child, have them remove some of the books and carry them in their arms to ease load on the back.
- Do not ignore any back pain in a child or teenager.
- Talk to the school about lightening the load. Team up with other parents to encourage changes.
- Encourage your child to stop at his or her locker when time permits throughout the day to drop off or exchange heavier books.
- If your child has back pain that does not improve, consider buying a second set of textbooks to keep at home.