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Overloaded backpacks may be hazardous to your health

The end of summer marks the beginning of another school year. As students return to school backpacks should be a subject matter taken seriously. Medical complications could result from backpacks that are too heavy, not properly fitted, or poorly designed. Examples of medical complications include tingling and numbness in the arms;  loss of arm strength; and arm, back, neck, or shoulder pain.

There are guidelines to consider when buying and loading a backpack. First, never put more than 10 to 15 percent of the student’s weight in a backpack. According to the National Safety Council, no one should carry more than 25 pounds in a backpack. Adjust the bulk of the weight to rest between the student’s shoulder blades, and not lower on the back.  Put the heaviest items close to your back and in the middle of the backpack because heavy items too high in the pack create problems with balance and result in swaying of the pack.  Heavy objects at the bottom of the pack will drag down on the shoulder straps, magnifying the discomfort.

Never sling the backpack over one shoulder and always use both shoulders.  Shoulder straps should be wide and padded. Narrow straps could cut off blood supply. Look for sternum and hip straps. Sternum straps connect the two shoulder straps, further redistributing weight and bringing the pack closer to the body, and reduce swinging of the pack. Hip straps come from the base of the pack and wrap around the hips and clip together just below the navel. They distribute weight to the pelvis and legs, further reducing the chance of straining the back and shoulders.

Maintaining good physical fitness and strength is important as the back and abdominal muscles work together to stabilize the trunk and hold our body in proper postural alignment; therefore, reducing the risk of injury with any activity, including carrying a backpack.

Karen Swafford, PTA