All About Backpacks

Written By: Mary M. Alward
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Your child riffles through his backpack to find homework assignments, his MP3 player, lunch money and his Game Boy games. He shoves it into the bottom of his locker, shoves it under the seat on the school bus and tosses it in a corner of his room when he gets home. The backpack is used and abused. But can your child's backpack affect your child's health permanently and cause him problems for his entire life? The answer is that if the backpack isn't used properly, it can permanently affect his posture and cause permanent back pain because his spine can be damaged.

Backpack Organization

Backpacks are great for helping your child become organized. Most have multiple compartments in which to keep notes, books, lunches and supplies close at hand. Backpacks have greater benefits than purses or shoulder bags because the weight in a backpack is more evenly distributed across the back. The abdominal and back muscles are the strongest in the body and they support the backpack. However, if the backpack is overloaded or improperly packed, problems can arise.

Backpack Health Problems

Your child's spine consists of 33 bones called vertebrae. Between the vertebrae is a disc, which acts as a shock absorber. If your child puts on a backpack that is overloaded, the weight can pull him backward. To compensate for this, your child may arch his back or bend forward at the hips. This causes his spine to compress in an unnatural way.

Teenagers who constantly carry and overloaded backpack compensate for the extra weight by leaning forward. Over an extended period of time, this will cause the upper back to be permanently curved and shoulders to become rounded. Your teen can develop problems with his back, neck and shoulders that will be permanent and cause him extreme pain.

Children who carry a backpack over one shoulder lean to one side to compensate for the extra weight. They can develop upper and lower back pain and neck and shoulder strain. The improper use of a backpack can lead to poor posture and a lifetime of back, neck and shoulder problems.

If your child struggles to get his backpack on or off, or if he has to lean forward to carry it, then you need to take a closer look at the way the backpack is being used. If the straps dig into his shoulders, they can interfere with the nervous system and blood circulation. This can cause numbness, tingling and weakness in the arms and hands.

A heavy backpack also changes the way your child walks and can cause him to stumble or fall. This is particularly true on stairs or uneven ground because the backpack causes your child to be off-balance.

Backpack Tips

Allow your child's backpack to work for him instead of against him. Follow these tips:

A backpack should have two padded straps. The wider these straps are, the better it is for your child.

A backpack with a metal frame gives more support. Be sure to measure before purchasing this type of backpack to ensure it will fit into your child's locker.

Shop for a backpack that has a belt at the waist. This helps to distribute the weight evenly on the body.

Be sure your child's backpack has multiple compartments, which also helps to distribute weight evenly on the body.

Purchase a backpack that has wheels. Kids love them and they keep the weight of books and supplies off of your child's back. Check with the school before purchasing to be sure this type of backpack is allowed.

Coach your child to carry only what he needs in his backpack. Lockers are the place for unnecessary items.

Teach your child to spread his homework over the week so he doesn't have to bring all of his books home the same day.

Be sure your child doesn't carry more than ten percent of this weight in his backpack. Check the weight on your bathroom scale to be sure he is within the limit.

Teach your child to bend his knees when he picks up his backpack. This prevents back injuries.

Help your child exercise to strengthen his back, torso and abdominal muscles.

Make it a rule that you child must carry his backpack with both straps over his shoulders and that the load is light and evenly distributed.

Heaviest items should be packed closest to your child's back to prevent his body from being pulled backward.

Backpacks are excellent tools when they are properly used. Teach your child the proper use of his backpack. If he uses it properly, there is little chance of injury or permanent damage. Keep your child safe.

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