Dr. Campbell: Back to school health – backpack safety


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – As Students in our area go back to school, most will purchase a new backpack in order to carry essentials too and from school.

It is important to remember that inappropriate backpack use can result in significant back and shoulder injuries for out kids. As part of CBS North Carolina’s back to school series, we want to help you and your student pick the right type of backpack and use it properly- and Avoid serious injury.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, backpack-related injuries send an estimated 5,000 children a year to emergency rooms. More than 14,000 children are treated annually for injuries.

As practical as backpacks are they can strain muscles and joints and may cause back pain if they’re too heavy or are used incorrectly.

When worn correctly, the weight in a backpack is evenly distributed across the body, and shoulder and neck injuries are less common than if someone carried a briefcase or purse.

Many kids have backaches because they’re lugging around their entire locker’s worth of books, school supplies, and assorted personal items all day long. Most doctors and physical therapists recommend that kids carry no more than 10% to 15 percent of their body weight in their packs.What are the specific dangers associated with backpacks?

Certainly, improper use or packing of backpacks can lead to musculoskeletal injury, strains, sprains of the back, shoulder, neck and arms.

Chronic improper backpack use can lead to poor posture. Girls and younger kids may be especially at risk for backpack-related injuries because they’re smaller and may carry loads that are heavier in proportion to their body weight.

It is important to remember that backpacks with tight, narrow straps that dig into the shoulders can interfere with circulation and nerves. These types of straps can contribute to tingling, numbness, and weakness in the arms and hands.What is the best way to carry a backpack?

When worn correctly, the weight in a backpack is evenly distributed across the body, and shoulder and neck injuries are less common than if someone carried a briefcase or purse. It is important to emphasize to kids that it is essential to use both straps and a waist belt if available in order to better distribute the weight.

What are the signs of backpack related injury?

Parents should look for signs and symptoms that may tip them off to the fact that their student is improperly using a backpack.

These signs include:

  • He/She struggles to get the backpack on or off
  • He/ She has back pain
  • He/She leans forward to carry the backpack
  • He/She has a change in posture

If your child has back pain, numbness or weakness in the arms or legs, talk to your doctor or physical therapist.What types of backpacks are recommended?

The best type of pack have these characteristics:

  • Buy a backpack with two wide, padded straps that go over the shoulders. Make sure your child uses both straps.
  • Choose a backpack with a padded waist or chest belt. This distributes weight more evenly across the body. Multiple compartments also help distribute the weight.
  • Your child’s backpack should not be wider than his body.
  • When fully loaded, your child’s backpack should weigh less than 15 percent of his body weight.
  • Use a bathroom scale to measure the maximum backpack load so your child can know what it should feel like.
  • Heavier items should be placed closer to the back of the backpack, near the body.
  • Picking up the backpack properly is important. As with any heavy object, your child should bend at the knees and grab the pack with both hands when lifting it to his shoulders.
  • Rolling bags, however, also pose a safety risk, since students have to maneuver staircases, but may be a good alternative if used properly

What is the bottom line?

Backpack injuries are more common that you may think.

It is important to understand the signs and symptoms.

It is also essential that we assist our children in picking out an appropriate backpack.

It is important to make sure you pick up the back pack and get a sense for what your kids are lugging around.

Ultimately use good common sense-pick a bag that allows for even distribution of weight-shoulder straps combined with a waist straps lift the bag and keeps the stress off of the lower back

Make sure your child isn’t toting unnecessary items like laptops, CD players and video games. These can add a lot of pounds.

Encourage your child to develop stronger lower back and abdominal muscles. This will help avoid injury.

Weight training and yoga are two activities that can help strengthen core muscles.To get in touch with Dr. Campbell, you can head to his website, Facebook page or message him on Twitter. If there’s a topic you’d like to see Dr. Campbell cover, let us know by sending an email to newstips@wncn.com.

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