While Benjamin Franklin was not speaking of back safety when he made this statement, it certainly can be applied to the subject. It is much easier to prevent back injury than it is to correct it once it has occurred.
In 2001, more than 7,000 emergency room visits were related to backpacks and book bags. According to the U.S. Consumer Product and Safety Commission, half of these injuries occurred in elementary and middle school students, ages 5 to 14 years old. The average student carries a back pack weighing approximately 25% of his body weight. A back pack should weigh no more than 15%, approximately one-sixth, of the body weight. Anything more is too heavy and can result in problems with the neck and/or back, in addition to causing fatigue, muscle soreness, discomfort, and back pain.
Keep your children safe by following these suggestions from AOTA, The American Occupational Therapy Association:
- Select a backpack that is the proper size for your child. The height of the backpack should extend from approximately 2 inches below the shoulder blades to waist level, or slightly above waist level.
- Wear well-padded shoulder straps on both shoulders. Doing so helps ensure that the weight of the backpack is balanced evenly.
- Load heavier items closest to your child's back, distribute the weight evenly, and balance the items so your child can stand up straight.
- Wear the hip belt, if the backpack has one. Doing so can improve balance and minimize strain on neck and shoulder muscles.
- Check to ensure that the backpack weighs no more than 15% of your child's body weight. If it does, eliminate unnecessary contents. Only have your child take necessary items to school. Consider using a book bag on wheels, if necessary.