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Back to School: Backpack Safety

PhotosFeb 080
Have you met my adorable sherpas? Here they are. Otherwise known as (a couple of..) my children.  Look more closely at their backpacks and you'll discover why  I call this my 'good twin/bad twin' photo.  One has her pack properly loaded and wears it tightly to her back with the bottom a few inches above her hips and her chest strap fastened.  The other is hinged forward at the waist to compensate for her sagging backpack that is not being worn properly.  She's laughing now but won't be once she begins her 1.5 mile walk to her middle school where there are no lockers. These girls will walk around like this all day long.  

Summer is almost over and the school bell is ready to ring again.  This changing of the season is sad for some parents and highly anticipated by others, but whichever camp you fall into, I want you to be an informed parent.   Unfortunately, it's not unusual for these little nuggets of ours to carry 16-20 pound loads on their backs, which is over 20% of their body weight.  The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) and the American  Physical Therapy Association (APTA) both recommend that a student's backpack should not exceed 10-15% of their bodyweight.  Oh....snap! So what do we do?  How do we save our children from the suffering of back, neck and knee pain and injuries while their fragile adolescent musculoskeletal systems are  trying to grow at rapid-fire speeds?  There is no magical solution, but here are some helpful tips:

 Buy a Backpack that Fits and wear it properly

  • It is like buying shoes (well maybe not as much fun?!)-- they fit people differently, be sure to try it on (and load them w/your stuff and feel for comfort/fit)
  • Straps adjust tightly enough that pack doesn't slouch off the back
  • Padding on the back of the pack
  • Pack does fall below hips, shouldn't be more than 2 inches below waist
  • Thick straps that don't cut into/compress nerves at the shoulders
  • chest/hip strap help alleviate weight from the back  
  • Make sure the pack itself isn't too heavy
  • You don't want it bigger than needed- kids will fill as much space as you give them
  • Never wear it one shoulder

How to Pack it Light

  • Heaviest items, like a laptop, go up against the back
  • Use lightweight plastic file folders instead of binders
  • Don't fill your water bottle until you get to school
  • Lunchboxes and the icepacks to keep them cold can get heavy, choose lightweight otpions or buy lunch
  • Leave your laptop chargers at home
  • You should never be carrying textbooks back and forth.  Unless your mom drives carpool in a horse and carriage. Get an extra copy of books to keep at home.
  • Leave more materials in the classroom instead of carrying back and may have to ask!
  • Minimize duplication of paper/technology
  • Only bring what you 3 Number 2 pencils instead of 14 in every color of the rainbow
  • Cleanout your backpack at the end of each week

If backpack weight is a prevalent issue at your school that is concerning to parents, consider hosting a National School Backpack Awareness Day.  Yes, this really is a thing.  Talking about it with your student really helps them be aware of what they are carrying and how it impacts the weight on their back.  Here's to a great 2016-17 schoolyear! 











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I'm all for helping to prevent back and neck pain, but I think sitting in a chair all day. hunching over a computer -or smart phone for that matter - will do more long term damage than a backpack to and from school. It would be nice to have some education around that.

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