As students savor the last precious weeks of summer vacation, parents are out making the final run for school supplies. So, parents, take note: When back-to-school shopping this year there is one essential item that requires very special attention: your child's backpack.
In 2013 alone, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission cited 5,415 backpack-related injuries treated at emergency rooms. In light of stats like these, doctors of chiropractic (DCs) point to the dangers of heavy backpacks, noting injuries ranging from acute back pain to chronic back pain to other types of damage.
"In my own practice, I have noticed a marked increase in the number of young children who are complaining about back, neck and shoulder pain," says Scott Bautch, DC, of the American Chiropractic Association's (ACA) Council on Occupational Health. "The first question I ask these patients is, 'Do you carry a backpack to school?' Almost always, the answer is 'yes.'"
According to Dr. Bautch, parents should limit the backpack's weight to no more than 5 to 10 percent of the child's body weight. A heavier backpack will cause your child to bend forward in an attempt to support the weight on his or her back, rather than on the shoulders, by the straps.
ACA offers the following backpack safety checklist for parents ahead of back-to-school season:
•Is the backpack the correct size for your child? The backpack should never be wider or longer than your child's torso, and the pack should not hang more than 4 inches below the waistline. A backpack that hangs too low increases the weight on the shoulders, causing your child to lean forward when walking.
•Does the backpack have two wide, padded shoulder straps? Wide, padded straps are very important. Non-padded straps are uncomfortable, and can dig into your child's shoulders.
•Does your child use both straps? Lugging the backpack around by one strap can cause the disproportionate shift of weight to one side, leading to neck and muscle spasms, as well as low-back pain.
•Are the shoulder straps adjustable? The shoulder straps should be adjustable so the backpack can be fitted to your child's body. Straps that are too loose can cause the backpack to dangle uncomfortably and cause spinal misalignment and pain.
•Does the backpack have a padded back? A padded back not only provides increased comfort, but also protects your child from being poked by sharp edges on school supplies (pencils, rulers, notebooks, etc.) inside the pack.
•Does the pack have several compartments? A backpack with individualized compartments helps position the contents most effectively. Make sure that pointy or bulky objects are packed away from the area that will rest on your child's back.
•Are all those materials really necessary? If the backpack is still too heavy, talk to your child's teacher. Ask if your child could leave the heaviest books and electronic items such as iPads and laptop computers at school, and bring home only lighter hand-out materials.
American Chiropractic Association