“When backpack loads weigh too much, muscles and soft tissues have to work harder. This can lead to strain and fatigue, leaving the back more vulnerable to injury,” says Shelley Goodgold, Ph.D., a backpack researcher and professor of physical therapy at Simmons College. Other potential problems include poor posture, misalignment of the knees, as well as compression of the shoulder and blood supply to the arms and hands (which can cause tingling or numbness). All from a bag of books!
For comfortable book-carrying, most experts recommend backpacks weigh no more than 10 to 15 percent of a child’s body weight. But every body is different and has different strength capabilities, says Goodgold, so, “the risk of injury may be different for two children of the same weight carrying the same backpack load.” In addition to checking the weight of your child’s pack, watch for these warning signs, which may indicate her load is too heavy:
- Struggling to put on or take off the backpack
- A change in posture while wearing the backpack, where your child’s head or body leans forward or she arches her back
- Red marks on her shoulders from the backpack
- Pain associated with wearing the backpack, especially in the neck, shoulders, back, and knees
- Tingling or numbness in the arms or hands
You can help your child can ease short-term aches with a warm bath or shower, by icing or massaging the affected area, or with muscle pain relievers like arnica, a homeopathic remedy that’s usually applied topically (try Boiron Arnicare Cream, $6.50 for 1.33 ounces, boironusa.com). Here’s how to keep the pain from coming back.
- Pick the right bag The backpack length should run between the bottom of your child’s neck and her lower back, and shoulder straps should allow for free arm movement. A padded back and shoulder straps will reduce pressure on the body, while hip and chest belts help distribute weight more evenly, says Goodgold.
- Raise the pack Your child might prefer to wear her bookbag low on her back to look cool, but adjusting the straps so the pack is up by her torso means her muscles won’t have to work as hard. Place heavy items near the back Organizing the heaviest books closest to the back moves the weight of the bag closer to your child’s base of support (his feet).
- Limit the weight If your child is still uncomfortable, she needs to carry fewer items in her bag, Goodgold says. Talk with her teacher about keeping an extra set of the heaviest books at home, or consider buying a rolling wheel bag.