Backpack Safety Tips

As our kids head back to school, they’re also heading back to busy schedules, learning opportunities and fun get-togethers. But they’re also heading back to the risk for pain. This is because heavy backpacks, especially when worn improperly, can cause injuries to the back, neck and shoulders.

Backpacks are a handy, hands-free way to carry big loads, such as books, binders, notebooks, pencil bags and athletic equipment. But there are right ways and wrong ways to use them – and not all backpacks are created equal. Here are some safety tips to keep in mind for choosing and using backpacks.

Watch the weight. Because the back and abdominal muscles are the strongest muscle groups in the body, they can easily support properly loaded backpacks. However, by properly loaded, we’re talking about backpacks that weigh no more than 20% of your body weight for adults and ideally only 10% to 15% for children. Attempting to carry more than this, particularly as a matter of routine, can result in pain and injury.

Distribute the load. It may be easier to sling that backpack over one shoulder, but doing so puts your spine out of alignment and can strain the shoulder that’s bearing all the weight. It can even cause scoliosis, which is curvature of the spine, over time. Take the time to put the backpack on over both shoulders to carry it correctly. When loading the backpack, distribute items evenly throughout the backpack’s compartments, putting the heaviest items in the center of the backpack.

Scrutinize the straps. Shoulder straps should be wide and padded in order to best distribute the load’s weight and protect the shoulders. Backpack straps that are too narrow can cut into the shoulder, causing injury or cutting off circulation. Backpacks with waist straps, or waist belts, can help further distribute the load across the core and shoulders more evenly.

Remember materials matter. Tough, sturdy fabric, such as canvas, make for durable backpacks that are also lighter than those made of other materials, such as leather. Reflective patches or accents add extra safety for crossing streets on dark days. Lightweight padding on the side that rests against the back can also protect it against being injured by any sharp contents of the backpack.

In addition to these tips, there are a variety of other practices you or your children should keep in mind to avoid backpack-related injury. Clean out backpacks often to eliminate unnecessary weight. Encourage children to use their school lockers to store books and other supplies that aren’t needed for homework. Show them how to pick up heavy objects, like backpacks, by bending at the knees instead of at the waist. When you have the choice, opt for paperback books instead of hardback and for smaller notebooks and binders.

In addition to the most common issue of back pain presented by the use of backpacks, overloaded backpacks also can throw the wearer off balance, causing dangerous falls and injuries. If this happens to you, remember that Avail Hospital is here to care for your emergency injury and will help you get “back” to life as quickly as possible.

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