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Pack it Up

Improper wear can lead to injury, back pain and fatigue

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From kindergarten to college, the backpack is a symbol of the student. It’s often jammed full of textbooks, notes, pencils and snacks. The backpack can also cause health problems. Spinal injury, back pain and fatigue are just a few of the symptoms of improper backpack wear. The good news is that there are ways to prevent such maladies and find a backpack that suits your child.

What to look for
Spinal problems: “The weight of a backpack can misalign the spine,” says Ximena Kleib, a sports massage therapist in Yorba Linda. “This could cause what’s commonly called forward-head syndrome, where your neck sticks out and forward, like a turtle.” She says spinal injuries can cause soreness in the neck, back and shoulders. Long-term negative effects include poor posture.

“Everything we do is forward and downward facing,” notes Bill Janeshak, a local chiropractor. “If the kids start with those poor habits, then when they get into the growth spurts and develop muscle, they get more bent and don’t develop strength or endurance in their posture. That becomes a big problem because it leads to chronic pain, asthma, upper respiratory issues, ear-nose-throat problems, even digestive issues — not to mention headaches and back pain.”

To help prevent these injuries, KidsHealth.org recommends kids carry no more than 10 percent to 15 percent of their weight. For example, a child who weighs 50 pounds should carry a backpack that weighs less than 7 pounds.

Soreness: “If your child does not exercise and build muscle, the heaviness of a backpack will be more likely to cause fatigue, and he will be very sore all the time,” Kleib says. MyPlate, the current nutrition guide published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, recommends children and adults do 60 minutes or more of physical activity each day.

Unused Items: Only pack what your child needs. “Whatever backpack style parents choose for their children, it’s important to remember it’s what’s inside that really counts,” notes an article by the North American Spine Society. “In fact, 64 percent of those surveyed claim that overloading the pack is the number one way children and teens improperly use their backpacks.” At the beginning of the school year, check any lists from the teacher about what they need. Remember to keep an eye on things that come home; don’t let their backpacks fill with unnecessary schoolwork.

Do’s and don’ts for backpack safety

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics:
• Do instruct your child to wear both straps, and make sure they are wide and padded.
• Don’t let your child carry more than she can handle.
• Do buy a backpack on wheels, if the school allows.
• Do notice if your child is  leaning forward to carry the backpack — this suggests it might be too heavy.  
• Do encourage your child to tell you about any pain or discomfort related to his neck, shoulders or back, and don’t ignore any back pain in a child. Ask your pediatrician for advice.

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