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Mind your back(pack)

Heavy, improperly worn schoolbook satchels can lead to injury, experts say


NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: KATHY FULLER - Too many heavy books can cause aching backs, shoulders and necks. Experts advise parents to make sure children wear backpacks properly.From homework and tests to extra-curricular activities, students already shoulder plenty of weight during back-to-school time. Their backpacks should be the least of their worries, says physical therapist Kent Bond of Impact Physical Therapy of Hillsboro.

“Backpacks are so practical, but they’re also so easy to misuse,” Bond said. “If they’re too heavy or just worn incorrectly, backpacks can cause strained muscles, sore joints, back pain and even injury in kids.”

The American Occupational Therapy Association estimates that about 79 million students across the United States carry backpacks to and from school. Nearly 22,000 strains, sprains, dislocations and fractures — ailments caused by improper backpack use — were reported by medical providers in 2013, according to the U.S. Consumer Safety Commission.

“These injuries are preventable,” Bond said. “Parents can play an active role in preventing these injuries by first selecting the right packs for their kids, then ensuring these packs are worn correctly.” Bond offers the following tips for parents, guardians and teachers:

n Select the right pack: Choose a pack that’s no larger than 75 percent of the length of your child’s back. Wide straps keep the pack from digging into the shoulders, and a padded back adds comfort and protection.

n Lighten the load: A loaded backpack should never be heavier than 10 percent of a child’s weight.

n Distribute the weight: Use multiple pockets and compartments to distribute the weight of the items inside the pack. Keep heavier items closer to your child’s back, while light and/or sharp items (pens, scissors, etc.) should be stored away from the back.

n Lift with the knees: Teaching your child about proper lifting will offer a lifetime of protection for his or her back. Children should always lift their backpack using their knees, not their waists.

n Adjust and carry: Insist your child always carry his or her pack using both shoulder straps, with the sternum strap and hip belt (if part of the pack) tightly secured. Adjust the shoulder straps so the backpack rests snugly against the back, below the shoulders yet above the hips.

n Watch for warning signs: Signs your child’s backpack is too heavy or not fitted properly include difficulty picking up and/or putting on the pack, pain when wearing, tingling or numbness in the arms or legs, strap marks left behind on the shoulders or a change in posture while wearing the backpack.

n Seek advice from a physical therapist: Licensed physical therapists are trained to prevent injury, reduce pain and restore mobility. Seek the advice of a physical therapist to learn more about properly selecting and wearing a backpack.

Kent Bond is a physical therapist at Impact Physical Therapy of Hillsboro.