WAKE FOREST — It's back-to-school time for traditional-calendar schools, and that means it is a good time to evaluate one of the more common sources of school-related injured — backpacks.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates there are more than 7,300 backpack-related injuries per year. Children routinely carry more than the recommended weight in school backpacks and, compounding the problem, also carry their bags incorrectly.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and other medical agencies recommend that a child's backpack should weigh no more than 10 to 20 percent of the child's body weight. However, this figure should be adjusted based on a child's fitness level and strength. That means that the average 7 year old second grader who weighs between 55 and 60 pounds should be carrying no more than 11 to 12 pounds in his or her backpack.
A backpack that is too heavy may cause:
•red marks on the shoulders or back from the straps
•tingling or numbness in the arms and back
•changes in posture when wearing the backpack, and
•pain anywhere in the back.
To compound these problems, which also may include nerve damage resulting from pressure on nerves in the shoulders, children should lighten their loads and carry backpacks correctly. The following tips are some additional ways youngsters can prevent backpack-related injuries:
•Carry only necessary items. Children should only carry what is required for that particular school day in their backpacks. If teachers routinely have students carry home many heavy books, parents can consult with the teachers to see if there are other options.
•Distribute weight evenly. Items in the backpack should be spread out to distribute the weight across the entire back. Heavier items should be at the bottom of the pack.
•Use both straps. Using only one strap shifts the backpack weight to one side, causing the back and shoulders to strain. Many orthopedists have reported treating children with back or shoulder pain as the result of carrying backpacks incorrectly.
•Choose the correct backpack size. The size of the backpack should match the scale of the child and should rest evenly in the middle of the child's back.
•Lift safely. Children should lift their backpacks by bending their knees and lifting to protect their backs.
There are some safety features parents can look for when purchasing backpacks. A padded back reduces pressure on the muscles and can be more comfortable, while compression straps make the backpack more sturdy. Additionally, reflective material on the backpack can make the child more visible to motorists.