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Growing Bodies and Backpacks

How to carry the load safely

As they head off to school to learn 21st century mathematics and science, do your children look like Neanderthals, hunched over under a heavy load? For growing bodies, backpacks that are too large or too heavy can lead to long-term back problems. If you’re buying a new backpack, shop with these guidelines in mind:

The pack should fit the child. Don’t buy a full-size pack for a first grader, expecting her to grow into it. With the shoulder straps adjusted, the pack should fit vertically between your student’s shoulders and the top of their hips.

Choose a pack with shoulder straps. That takes stress off the shoulders.

Choose a pack with a waist strap, padded if possible. The waist strap keeps the load close to your child’s body, reducing strain on the spine.

Choose a pack without wheels. Wheels are not a solution. They force the child to twist his or her spine, add weight and can cause falls on stairs.

Teach your child to use his or her backpack correctly:

Pack correctly. Backpacks should weigh no more than 10% to 15% of your child’s body weight. The median weight for a 9–year-old boy is about 60 pounds; that means his backpack should weight no more than 6 to 9 pounds.

Load correctly. The heaviest items should be closest to the child’s back.

Lift correctly. You child should use both hands and bend her knees to pick up the backpack. Put one shoulder strap over one shoulder and then the other.

Wear correctly. Both straps should be snug on top of the shoulders. Everyone, including fashion-conscious teens, should use the waist strap. The backpack should be against your child’s back at all times. There should be no space between the pack and his back. When wearing the backpack, your child should be able to stand and walk upright. Ears should be aligned over shoulders and shoulders over hips.

Many children visit the emergency room with neck pain and headaches from using backpacks incorrectly. And faulty posture during childhood causes wear and tear on the tissues of the spinal column, which can result in back pain later in life. To prevent these problems, help your child to carry less and to carry a backpack correctly. Remind your children to wear both straps and to stand up like a 21st century man or woman.

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