Back to school backpack injuries

The children are returning to school soon, and all will be carrying their backpacks! Unfortunately, backpacks are often a source of injury, and many recent studies have brought attention to these risks.

Wearing heavy backpacks cause the body to lean forward, risking falls and putting strain on the lower back. The shoulders hunch forward, and the muscles along the spine and ribcage are irritated. As expected, the frequently seen painful areas include the neck, shoulders, and back. However, a recent Italian study found that carrying backpacks can cause pain in the forefoot and arch, especially in overweight children.

Another interesting study of children ages 6-18 years seen in a hospital emergency department for “backpack injuries” found that 89% did not involve the usual bodily locations. The head or face was injured in 22% of patients; the wrist or elbow in 13%; the foot or ankle in 12%; and shoulder in 12%. The mechanisms of injury were wearing backpack, 13%; tripping over backpack, 28%; and getting hit by backpack, 13%!

Injury prevention begins with selection of the appropriate backpack. It should have wide, well-padded shoulder straps, a padded back section, a waist strap, and should be lightweight.

The fully loaded backpack should not weigh more than 10-15% of the child’s weight. The child should be instructed to drop off books and other heavy items into their locker throughout the day if possible. Pack only essential items, and place the heavier items low toward the center of the backpack. Always tighten straps to keep load close to the back. Always use both shoulder straps to carry the backpack. If the child complains of neck, back, or shoulder pain, or pain or numbness of the hands or feet, evaluate the weight of the backpack and its proper use and fit. If the symptoms persist, seek medical advice.

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