Lighten up: Backpack safety tips to help during the school year

Dr. Heidi Schumacher, a D.C. pediatrician, offers tips on backpack safety

The new school year brings with it more responsibility for young students, but one thing that should not weigh them down is what they carry in their backpacks.

When backpacks are too heavy, they can lead to injury of both muscles and joints, and can ultimately cause back, neck, shoulder and posture problems, said Dr. Heidi Schumacher, a D.C. pediatrician and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on School Health.

“The bag should weigh no more than 10 to 20% of a child’s body weight,” Schumacher said.

Schumacher, who also serves as the assistant superintendent of Health and Wellness in D.C.’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education, added that packing light is important whenever possible.

If that’s not possible, she suggested considering a rolling backpack, keeping in mind the layout of your child’s school, and whether or not your child needs to go up and down the stairs.

Here are some more tips to ease the load on your child’s back:

  • Look for a lightweight backpack that has two wide, padded shoulder straps and a waist strap, which can help distribute the weight of the bag evenly.
  • Organize items so the heaviest ones are closest to the back of the bag.
  • Always make sure the straps are tight, and keep that weight as close to the back as possible.
  • Always use both shoulder straps. Wearing a backpack on just one shoulder could strain muscles and increase the curvature of the back.
  • When picking up the backpack, bend your knees. Don’t bend over at the waist; use leg muscles to pick it up.

Backpacks are a great way to carry supplies because they are designed to carry heavy books across some of the body’s strongest muscles. Good practices from an early age can prevent chronic pain in the long term, Schumacher said.

Find more tips on backpack safety online from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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