5 Tips for Backpack Safety

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When you think of people who suffer from back pain, you probably picture adults who've developed injuries related to automobile or occupational accidents. But did you know your child may be a candidate for back problems as well?

Heavy or improperly sized backpacks can cause your child to suffer from back strains and sprains. Falls—and related issues, like wrist fractures—are another potential danger related to oversized backpacks. Fortunately, most of these health issues are short-term.

"I often hear from parents who are concerned that a heavy backpack will cause their child to develop scoliosis," says Bettina Gyr, MD, assistant professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Wake Forest Baptist Health. "There's no truth to that. However, you shouldn't overlook minor issues that can be painful to your child."

 Dr. Gyr offers several tips for reducing the risk of backpack-related injuries:

  1. When shopping for a backpack, choose one that has wide, well-padded straps. Also ensure the bottom of the backpack sits about two inches above your child's waist.
  2. Weigh your child's backpack, when fully loaded with books, to make sure it's no more than 10 to 15 percent of her body weight. So, for example, if your child weighs 60 pounds, the backpack should only weigh about 6 to 9 pounds.
  3. Go through your child's backpack at the end of each school week. Not only will this process allow you to unload all of the excess junk that may be weighing her backpack down, it will help you keep an eye out for important forms and homework.
  4. Encourage your child to wear her backpack with both straps over her shoulders. Also suggest that she store books in her locker when she's not using them. While you can't guarantee your child will follow these guidelines when she's at school, it doesn't hurt to go over them with her anyway.
  5. Messenger bags aren't recommended, but if you have an older child who wishes to carry one, remind her to wear it across her body and to alternate the sides she carries it on.

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Last Updated: 04-14-2014
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