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Proper backpack usage is key to prevent back problems for kids

Little boy with a backpack goes to school. (iStock photo)1 / 2
Thomas and Gwyneth Murtha had their backpacks adjusted and weighed to the correct placement/weight on Wednesday afternoon at RehabVisions in Dickinson. (Submitted photo) 2 / 2

Students carry their books and homework in them everyday, but if a backpack doesn't fit right it can be the cause of back problems down the road.

Jordyn Braun, an occupational therapist assistant at RehabVisions in Dickinson, said nearly 23,000 people go to the emergency room each year because of injuries related to backpacks and book bags.

Braun said a backpack should not be more than 10 percent of a child's weight, as heavy backpacks can cause falls and/or back damage. Recent studies showed that 65 percent of students carry a backpack that is heavier than it should be.

Braun stressed the importance of properly fitting a backpack for a child. The top of the backpack should be in line with a child's shoulders and should rest snugly against the back. Straps should not be too long or too short and parents should make sure that a chest strap is used if the backpack has one. The bag should not stretch below the hipbones.

"With teens if you can find a strap that has a little bit of cushion, it's going to help take that impact off of your shoulders," she said. "I know from previously when I've had backpacks they make some gel that can go inside or is already inside and that helps quite a bit."

The American Occupational Therapy Association also recommends that parents and students utilize different compartments to distribute weight. Heavier items should be closer to the back center of the backpack, while lighter items should be placed in the front. Sharp objects should also be away from the back to help prevent injury.

AOTA recommends that parents teach their children to pick up the backpack by bending and lifting from the knees instead of the waist to prevent back injury.

In order to ensure proper fit, it is important to bring the child with when picking out a backpack.

"The selection of a backpack is a family affair," Dr. Karen Jacobs, an occupational therapist and ergonomist, said in a press packet from AOTA. "By joining together as a team, children will realize the importance of proper backpack wearing. It should be considered a fun family activity. The bottom-line message is to have children begin to take more responsibility for their physical health."

According to the AOTA, some warning signs that a backpack is too heavy include:

• Difficulty when putting on or taking off the backpack.

• Pain when wearing the backpack.

• Tingling or numbness in the arms or legs.

• Red strap marks over the anterior part of the shoulders.

• Any change in side-to-side posture while wearing the backpack.

Sydney Mook

Sydney Mook started working as the multimedia editor for The Press in January 2016.  She graduated from the University of South Dakota with a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science in three and half years in December 2015. While at the USD, she worked for the campus newspaper, The Volante, as well as the television news show, Coyote News. She also interned at South Dakota Public Broadcasting and spent the summer before her senior year interning in Fort Knox for the ROTC Cadet Summer Training program. In her spare time, Sydney enjoys cheering on the New York Yankees and the Kentucky Wildcats, as well as playing golf. If you've got an idea for a video be sure to give her a call!

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