Reminder for Parents: Backpacks

Should Weigh Less than Ten Percent of Your Child's Body Weight

Aug 16, 2005, 01:00 ET from Marshfield Clinic

    MARSHFIELD, Wis., Aug. 16 /PRNewswire/ -- Backpacks cause nearly half of
 back pain reported by school-aged children, largely because their contents are
 too heavy.
     Parents can help prevent back problems in children by encouraging proper
 fit and limiting content weight, said Ellen Schumann, M.D., a pediatrician
 with Marshfield Clinic, Marshfield, Wisconsin.
     Young children are especially vulnerable to back pain from heavy backpacks
 when carrying more than six percent of their body weight, according to
 researchers at the University of Southern Australia, Centre for Allied Health
 Research. Yet young children have the lowest incidence of back pain reported.
 Back pain increases rapidly among girls ages 12-13 and boys ages 13-14 when
 they are undergoing puberty.
     "Back pain corresponds with the greatest linear growth rate," Schumann
     Studies show that 96 percent of parents never check their child's backpack
 weight and 34 percent do not check the contents.
     Backpacks should not weigh more than ten percent of a child's body weight,
 according to the American College of Sports Medicine. That's the preferred
 weight limit, Schumann said, adding that 15 percent of body weight is the
 maximum limit.
     Other research indicates that using only one strap of the backpack is not
     "Using one strap requires twice the energy of using both straps," said
 Schumann. Using both straps distributes the backpack weight evenly.
     It's best to choose backpacks appropriate to your child's size.
     "The bigger the backpack, the more your child will try to carry," Schumann
     Other tips include:
     -- Choose a backpack that has wide, padded, adjustable straps so the pack
        can be fitted to your child's body
     -- Adjust the backpack so it rests no more than two inches below the
        waist. Backpacks with compartments help position contents
     -- Pack heaviest items first
     Children should be taught to use proper posture and lifting techniques,
 Schumann suggested. Face the backpack when lifting it and bend knees if it is
 heavy. She encourages children to keep books in school lockers and retrieve
 those needed between classes.
     "If parents address this when children first start school, if they show
 children how to put on a backpack, what is proper posture so they don't lean
 back or forward, then children will develop safe habits at an early age,"
 Schumann said.
     Schumann also encourages parents and children to be aware of warning signs
 that a backpack is too heavy, including:
     -- Change in posture when wearing a backpack, notably leaning forward or
     -- Struggling when putting on or taking off the backpack
     -- Chronic muscle pain or pain when wearing the backpack
     -- Tingling, numbness or red marks.
     If back pain does occur, over-the-counter pain relievers may help.
     The Marshfield Clinic system provides patient care, research and education
 with 41 locations in northern, central and western Wisconsin, making it one of
 the largest comprehensive medical systems in the United States.

SOURCE Marshfield Clinic