Diminish back pain from backpacks with these strategies by uofl health

School is in session. Between homework, that extra pair of shoes for athletic practice and school supplies, have you seen your child’s backpack grow a little more each day?

According to the American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc., more than 79 million students in the U.S. carry backpacks. Students whose bags are not properly packed or weigh too much are more likely to have back pain.

In 2007, there were more than 2,000 backpack-related injuries treated in the United States. Research from one study found that 64 percent of students ages 11 to 15, reported back pain related to their backpack. More than 20 percent of them had pain that lasted longer than six months.

If your child’s backpack weighs more than they do, it’s time to make a few changes.

Scott D. Tomchek, Ph.D., OTR/L, FAOTA, an occupational therapist at Weisskopf Child Evaluation Center says parents and children should start with a few simple strategies.

First, take a look at how your child’s bag is loaded. The American Occupational Therapy Association recommends that a loaded backpack should never weigh more than 10 percent of the student’s total body weight. For example if your child weighs 100 pounds, their backpack shouldn’t weigh more than 10 pounds. They also recommend that the “height of the backpack should extend from approximately 2 inches below the shoulder blades to waist level or slightly above the waist.”

Second, students should be wearing their backpack on both shoulders to distribute the weight in the bag evenly.

Third, Dr. Tomchek said to make sure your child’s bag is an appropriate size for them. Bags do come in various sizes. So be sure the bag is suitable not only for their size, but will adequately fit the items they need to carry.

“If parents and children have followed the recommended practices and back pain doesn’t subside, that’s when it’s time to call your child’s doctor,” Dr. Tomchek said.

Your child’s physician will then develop a treatment plan specific to your child’s diagnosis.

And will technology such as eBooks on iPads help lighten your load? Dr. Tomchek said for some students it might, but not everyone. “Not all books are available yet for tablets, and parents can’t forget about the impact after-school activities can have on backpacks,” he said.

Dr. Tomchek went on to explain that many students use their backpacks to carry items for their after-school activities, such as an extra pair of shoes, clothing or athletic equipment.

Just remember, back pain shouldn’t be an issue for your child if you remember to follow the strategies and help teach your child how to load and carry their backpack.

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Melody Kitchen

Melody Kitchen is the director of communications at UofL Health. She has more than 15 years of health care marketing experience. Melody believes that empowering people with health care knowledge enables them to be better advocates for their own health care. Melody received her bachelor's and master's from Texas Tech University.

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