You need only watch how students struggle while they walk with an overloaded backpack to understand the potential health risks to their backs and spines. Hauling heavy backpacks on a continual basis can cause stress to the growing spinal column, which could lead to a lifetime of pain and health problems.To prevent back and neck pain from an overloaded backpack it is important to recognize the correct way to choose, pack, lift, and carry a backpack.
CHOOSING A BACKPACK
1. Choose a backpack that is proportionate to body size and not larger than what is needed. The top of the backpack should not extend higher than the top of the shoulder, and the bottom should not fall below the top of the hipbone.
2. Select a backpack made of lightweight material (vinyl or canvas instead of leather).
3. The shoulder straps should be at least two inches wide, adjustable, and padded. Ensure that they do not cut into or fit too snugly around the arms and arm pits. Poorly designed shoulder straps can dig deep into the muscles and cause pain.
4. A backpack should have a padded back for added protection and comfort.
5. A hip strap or waist belt is essential as this effectively helps to redistribute as much as 50 to 70 per cent of the weight off the shoulders and spine onto the pelvis, equalizing the strain on the
bones, joints, and muscles.
6. Choose a backpack that has several individual pockets instead of one large compartment, this will help to distribute the weight evenly and keep contents from shifting.
7. Explore other backpack options such as one with wheels and a pull handle for easy rolling.
PACKING A BACKPACK
1. Backpacks should never exceed 15 per cent of a child’s body weight (i.e.: a 90-pound child should not carry more than 14 pounds in a backpack). For elementary school children try to keep the weight in their packs below 10 per cent of their body weight.
2. Ensure the weight is evenly distributed in the backpack.
3. Pack the heaviest items closest to the body, this reduces the strain as the weight is closer to the body’s own centre of gravity.
4. Don’t overload the backpack; only carry the items that are needed.
5. Pack the odd-shaped items on the outside, so they don’t dig into the back.
6. Remember to always “Pack it light, wear it right!”