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Back-to-School Basics

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Backpack safety is important for the health of your child.

KidBackackGoing back to school doesn’t have to be back-breaking work! Touro physical therapist Monique Serpas, PT, DPT, OCS, shares tips for ensuring your child’s backpack is packed — and worn — correctly to avoid pain and possible injury.

“When we carry a heavy backpack, we compensate by pulling our neck forward,” Serpas says, “which results in poor posture and neck pain. Instead, our head should be in line with our spine and shoulders.”

This phenomenon, known as “forward neck posture,” can cause numbness, muscle tightness around the shoulders, and ultimately lead to nerve and disc problems. However, it is not just the way a child wears the backpack that can lead to these issues; improperly loading the bag is also to blame.

Serpas explains that these issues can be easily avoided by following a few simple rules when shopping for, packing and wearing a backpack.

“Children can develop good routines for using backpacks and begin to take responsibility for their backpack belongings at a young age,” Serpas says, “and that sense of responsibility can continue as they grow older.”

Shopping Tips
“Look for bags with wide, padded straps, which help to distribute the weight better,” Serpas says. “If the bag has a chest and/or hip strap, that’s even better. The fit should be snug but comfortable. Venting on the back, to let the air circulate, is also nice.”

She also recommends that the size of the backpack should not be too big, to discourage over-packing.

Fit Tips
According to Serpas, a loaded backpack should only weigh between 10 to 15 percent of the student’s total body weight. The bag should be worn in the middle of the back — not sagging or too high. The height should extend from about 2 inches below the shoulders to just above the waist.

Most importantly, students should always wear both straps so the weight is evenly distributed.

Packing Tips
It is best to load the heaviest items first, closest to the student’s back, and to load smaller, lighter weight items toward the front, making sure to arrange them so they do not slide around.

Most importantly, Serpas says that you will easily be able to spot whether your child is properly wearing his or her backpack.

“See what the child looks like with the pack on,” Serpas says. “Talk about the importance of posture! With older kids, you can even calculate how much the backpack should weigh based on the child’s weight. Start them young!”

– Monique Serpas, PT, DPT, OCS