Overloaded backpacks can harm children's bodies

With school starting back up, students have a lot of pressure on them to maintain a healthy lifestyle during the school year. This includes eating healthily, managing studying time effectively and even wearing a backpack correctly to prevent stress on the back.

Backpacks loaded down with books or worn incorrectly could lead to increased back pain and other strains on a child's body, according to local experts.

"Excessive strain on muscles and joints can cause pain if done too often," said Neal Tanner, senior physical therapist at Saint Francis Outpatient Rehabilitation. Wearing a backpack incorrectly "would basically be a muscular or skeletal injury."

He said the injury can usually be cured by taking a few days away from wearing the backpack, using anti-inflammatory medicine or possibly physical therapy.

"If you start to have pain and it's not going away, it's time to seek some medical attention," he said.

Parents and teachers should observe children's posture as they carry backpacks, according to Dr. Aaron Andrews, a chiropractic neurologist at Jackson Healing Arts.

"If the child leans forward while walking, takes shorter strides or uses his or her hands to protect the shoulders from the straps, it is an indication the backpack is too heavy," Andrews said.

Andrews said a child's backpack should weigh no more than five to 10 percent of his or her body weight. If a child leans forward while walking with a backpack on, it is a sign of heaviness. The child should be able to support the weight of a backpack with his or her shoulders, with the bag hanging no more than four inches below the waistline, Andrews said.

Both Andrews and Tanner said a student should never wear a backpack on one shoulder, using only one strap.

"It's important to wear the backpack balanced between the shoulder blades," Tanner said. "You don't want to create stress angles on certain [parts] of the body."

They recommend padded straps on a backpack, which will not cut into the shoulder or neck and leave impression marks.

Tanner said opting to carry books in one's hand instead of using a backpack is not necessarily a better option, because this may cause stress on one side of a child's body from the load of carrying too many books in one hand.

Andrews suggested rolling backpacks as a good option, but some schools do not allow these. He also said a backpack with many compartments is a better choice.

A backpack with several pockets or compartments "helps in positioning the contents most effectively," Andrews said. "Make sure the pointy or bulky objects are packed away from the area that will rest on your child's back."

He said back and neck pain are becoming a bigger issue in younger people and emphasized the need to wear a backpack correctly.

"If not, one can negatively impact his or her body during the developing years, resulting in harmful physical effects that could possibly last a lifetime," he said.