Hannah Montana or Avatar might be on your child's mind. But it when it comes to the kind of backpack to purchase for this school year, safety should be top of mind for parents.
About 6,000 children are injured each year from wearing an inappropriate backpack. Before you head to the store for school supplies, be sure you know the four steps to backpack safety.
• Choose wisely. Backpacks come in many sizes and designs that allow children of all ages to express their own style. Select a lightweight pack that doesn't add more pounds to your child's load. Make sure it has two wide, padded shoulder straps, because narrow straps can dig into the shoulders. A padded back on the pack will provide increased comfort and protect kids from being poked by the sharp edges of pencils, pens, rulers and other objects stored inside.
Finally, choose a backpack that is the right size for your student. It should cover no more than 75 percent of the length of your child's back, which is approximately the space between the shoulder blades and waist.
• Pack it carefully. The maximum weight of the loaded backpack should not exceed 15 percent of your child's body weight, so pack only what is needed. Make use of a bag's compartments to help distribute the weight more evenly. A waist belt will also help distribute the weight across the body. Be sure to place the heaviest books closest to the back as they require the greatest body support. If the backpack forces the child to lean forward to carry it, then it's overloaded.
• Lift it correctly. Facing the backpack, have your child bend at the knees. Use both hands and check the weight of the pack. Then lift with the legs and apply one shoulder strap and then the other. Don't let your child just sling the backpack onto one shoulder and go. This will put too much strain on one side of the upper body.
• Wear it correctly. The backpack straps should be snug, but not too tight. Unnecessary tightness can also hurt the shoulders. Compared to shoulder bags, messenger bags or purses, backpacks are better because the strongest muscles in the body - the back and the abdominal muscles - support the weight of the packs. Therefore, stick with a standard backpack to decrease risk of injury. Make sure your child wears the waist strap if the backpack is equipped with one in order to better distribute the load.
As practical as backpacks are, they can strain muscles and joints and may cause back pain if they are too heavy or used incorrectly. So it is important to help your child choose an appropriate backpack and use it wisely.
(Linda Rhodes is an occupational therapist at MCGHealth Children's Medical Center.)
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