How to Prevent Heavy Packs from Injuring Little Backs

How to Prevent Heavy Packs from Injuring Little Backs

Backpack overload sends tens of thousands of kids a year to emergency rooms, physicians’ offices and clinics from sprains, strains, dislocations and fractures.

National School Backpack Awareness Day is in September, but we wanted to alert you to this important information about backpack safety before your kids head back to school. Choosing the right backpack and filling it correctly could save them from the serious health effects that heavy or improperly worn backpacks can cause, including backaches, shoulder pain, tingling arms, weakened muscles and stooped posture.

Corey Gill, MD, medical director of pediatric orthopedics at Medical City Children’s Hospital in Dallas, says these acute injuries can become chronic over time and can affect a child’s growth, posture and health later in life.

Shocking backpack injury statistics.

According to a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission report, backpack injuries in 2002 accounted for an estimated:

  • 7,860 emergency room visits
  • 21,210 physician’s office and clinic visits
  • 872 hospitalizations

“We definitely see problems with kids coming in with back pain related to their backpacks,” said Matt Bush, MD, an emergency medicine physician at Medical City Children’s Hospital.

How to choose the right backpack.

Backpacks come in many shapes, sizes and styles. While your child’s idea of the perfect one may be based solely on whether it has Pokémon or Elsa on it, there are fit and function issues you should also take into consideration. Just as you would buy your children well-fitting, safe shoes, the same principles should be applied to the pack they’ll be wearing on their backs for the next 10 months or so.

Select a pack:

  • Choose one with wide, well-padded shoulder straps to help distribute weight and prevent nerve and blood vessel damage to shoulders and necks
  • The addition of a chest or hip belt will further distribute weight, as will choosing a pack with multiple compartments and side pockets
  • Make sure the straps can be cinched tight; if they are loose in the shortest position, the pack is too large

Try on and measure the pack:

  • The top should sit approximately 2 inches below the shoulder blades
  • The bottom should rest in the curve of the lower back and no more than 4 inches below the waist

How to wear a backpack safely.

The safest, most well-chosen backpack will be unsafe if worn incorrectly. Follow these tips to lessen the chance of backpack injuries.

Load and weigh the pack:

  • Fully loaded, the pack should weigh no more than 10% of your child’s body weight
  • Make sure children carry only what is needed for that day’s activities
  • Pack heavier items low and toward the center back of the pack
  • Load smaller items into compartments and pockets to help distribute weight

Wear the pack correctly:

  • Have children use both straps to distribute weight evenly; wearing a pack slung over one shoulder can cause leaning and spine curvature
  • Tighten the straps so the pack fits snugly and doesn’t hang down or bounce
  • Use and tighten chest and hip straps to take some of the strain off the back, shoulders and neck
  • Teach your children how to lift heavy objects (including backpacks) properly, by bending at the knees

Backpack-Mom-FB

Other backpack safety strategies.

  • Encourage children to report any pain, numbness or tingling in their neck, shoulders, arms, back or legs, which could be a sign that a backpack is too heavy or doesn’t fit well
  • Watch children get in and out of the pack; if they’re struggling, have them remove some items and carry them in their arms
  • Suggest children leave items in a locker until needed
  • Help children empty and clean out their backpacks weekly to get rid of trash and unnecessary items (plus, you never know what treasures you’ll find!)
  • If pain continues, consider buying a second set of books to keep at home, or check to see if textbooks are available in a tablet edition
  • Never ignore back pain in a child or teenager

HCA Medical City Ask a Nurse Infographic_Revised

Medical City Healthcare hopes your children get to school safely and smoothly this year, but if overloaded backpacks weigh them down, look to one of our many Medical City ER locations across North Texas. With average wait times posted online, if you do have an emergency, you can spend less time waiting and more time on the moments that matter most.

Find a fast Medical City ER near you or call our free 24-hour Ask a Nurse hotline.

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Revised August 11, 2017

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