Back-to-school season is right around the corner, which makes me reflect on my own school days. While I had some fun, was a good student and made the most of being forced to sit next to the boy who ate erasers, I’m glad those days are over. In addition to having to ask to go to the bathroom and enduring the aforementioned eraser-eater, there’s one more aspect about my school days that I wouldn’t want to relive: carrying around that back-breaking backpack.
Ergonomics isn’t just for adults anymore – at least not when it comes to those heavy, book-filled backpacks. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), more than 13,700 kids, ages 5-18, were treated in hospitals and doctors' offices for injuries related to backpacks.
“When used correctly, backpacks can be a good way to carry the necessities of the school day,” said orthopaedic surgeon and American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) spokesperson Melanie Kinchen, M.D. “Backpack injuries are commonly caused by wearing overloaded backpacks, as well as lifting and carrying them incorrectly. Parents and teachers should guide kids to take preventative measures.”
Lightening the Load
AAOS offers the following back-to-school tips to help kids lighten their backpack load:
- Always use both shoulder straps to keep the weight of the backpack better distributed.
- Tighten the straps and use waist strap if the bag has one.
- Remove or organize items if the backpack is too heavy and place the biggest items closest to the back.
- Lift properly and bend at the knees to pick up a backpack.
- Carry only those items that are required for the day; leave some books at home or school, if possible.
- Keep walkways clear of backpacks to avoid tripping over them.
Parents must do their part to help unburden their kids, too:
- Choose a backpack that is appropriately sized for your child, or have your child use a rolling backpack to avoid shouldering the load.
- Encourage your child or teenager to tell you about pain or discomfort that may be caused by a heavy backpack, like numbness or tingling in the arms or legs.
- Purchase a backpack appropriate for the size of your child and look for any changes in your child's posture when he or she wears the backpack.
- Watch your child put on or take off the backpack to see if it is a struggle. Do not ignore red marks on the shoulders if your child or teenager expresses discomfort.
- Talk to the school about lightening the load. Keep the load under 10-15 percent of the child's body weight.
- Be sure the school allows students to stop at their lockers throughout the day.
- Teachers can help by following these tips:
- When planning lessons, take into consideration ways to lighten a child's backpack load.
- Allow enough time for kids to stop by their lockers to drop off books.
Boy, am I glad those days are over. Well, except for when I have to lug my computer and work files around with me all day long at safety conferences. Maybe things haven’t changed so much after all...