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Backpack Safety Guide

Students carry an impressive amount of books and supplies to school these days. Adults also use backpacks to transport many essential items needed for both work and leisure. As a result, backpacks have increased in size to accommodate heavier loads. Most bag purchases are typically influenced by style and design rather than functionality. Since they are so common and efficient, we do not often associate them with health concerns. However, backpacks do pose injury risks and being aware of the following safety tips will help avoid future pain and complications.

Purchasing a Safe Pack
Many of us, children especially, are particular about the brand, color or style of their backpack. But it is important to choose the right size for the your back and one with enough room for necessary school, work or play items. When shopping for a new bag, look for the following backpack features.

Lightweight – Heavier materials, such as leather, add weight to backpacks in comparison to traditional canvas packs.

Two wide and padded shoulder straps – Narrow straps can dig into shoulders and cause pain or tingling in the neck, arms and hands.

Padded back – The padding is more comfortable and protects against sharp edges and objects within the bag.

Waist belt – Belts help distribute weight evenly across the body.

Multiple compartments – Utilizing all of the bag’s pockets helps distribute the weight of its contents throughout the backpack.

While bags with wheels serve as good alternatives for carrying heavy loads, they can be difficult to maneuver on stairs and uneven surfaces such as grass. Parents should check with their child’s school before purchasing a rolling pack as some schools consider these tripping hazards and do not allow them on campus.

Wear it Right
Even if a backpack has all of the suggested safety features, it must be worn properly to avoid injuries to muscles and joints. Minor injuries or discomfort can eventually lead to severe back, neck, and shoulder pain, as well as posture problems. These complications can be easily avoided by following a few simple tips.

Wear both straps. Using just one backpack strap will force the body to bear the entire weight of the backpack on one side, causing the body to lean. The result could lead to curvature of the spine as well as pain and discomfort.

Wear the backpack over the strongest mid-back muscles. Adjust the shoulder straps so that the bag rests snugly and evenly in the curve of the lower back (about 2 inches or 5 centimeters above the waist) and never more than four inches below the waistline. The straps should also allow the wearer to easily put on and remove the backpack without difficulty as well as allow free movement of the arms. However, a bag that hangs too loosely can pull the body back and strain muscles.

Wear the waist belt if the backpack has one. This helps distribute the pack’s weight evenly and provides increased lumbar support.

Organize contents with heaviest items, such as textbooks, closest to the back. Distribute the weight throughout the back by using all of the compartments and pockets.

Treat the backpack as any other heavy weight. When lifting, bend at the knees, grasp the bag with both hands and lift with your legs. Building muscle strength will also help if you expect to carry heavy loads often.

Pack Right and Pack Light
According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), backpacks should weigh no more than 10 to 15 percent of the wearer’s body weight. Lighter is always better. As an example, a child weighing 100 pounds should not carry a bag heavier than 15 pounds.

How students can lighten the load:
Pack only what is needed for the day. Unnecessary items, such as video games and comics, add extra weight and could be left at home.

Make frequent locker trips. If available, students should use lockers to help avoid carrying an entire day’s worth of books.

Stay up to date with homework. Falling behind harms grades and increases workload. When you have to catch up, it often means more books and work to bring home.

Hand carry one item to help offset the weight in your backpack.

Don’t Ignore the Problem
The spine consists of 33 bones called vertebrae. Between the vertebrae are discs that act as natural shock absorbers. When shoulders bear a heavy weight incorrectly, the weight’s force can pull a person backward. To compensate, the person may bend forward at the hips or arch their back, which can cause the spine to compress unnaturally. The result could be any of the following problems.

   • Aching back and shoulders
   • Weakened muscles
   • Tingling or numbness in arms and hands
   • Poor posture
   • Pain is a signal from your body telling you something is wrong. Kids should immediately alert their parents to any pain or discomfort. Parents, never ignore back pain in your child or teenager. Contact your child’s physician as soon as you are aware of the problem. Also, talk with your child’s teacher about ways to lighten the load.

Be Careful!
Not all backpack related injuries are a result of overload. Studies have shown that many emergency room visits made by schoolchildren involve injuries received to their feet, wrists and elbows from tripping over backpacks. Always watch where you are going and do not leave your belongings on the ground in walkways. Remember that bags protrude behind you so avoid hitting others with your pack when turning or maneuvering through tight areas like crowded hallways.

Parents have many worries when it comes to their children, but backpacks do not have to be one of them. Adults who often use backpacks should also ensure they are not straining themselves. When worn and packed properly, bags pose very little risk for injury. Student or not, utilizing these backpack safety tips will help at any age. Talk to your physician if you have questions about backpack safety or if you experience any pain or discomfort as a result of your bag.