Middletown Transcript
Backpack safety isn't old school
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By ATI Physical Therapy
Sept. 12, 2013 12:01 a.m.

As the school year ramps up and the homework loads get heavier, so do backpacks. And, just a heads up: if your child is carrying anything heavier than 15 percent of his or her body weight, you get a failing grade in backpack safety.
A study led by the American Physical Therapy Association found that 55 percent of children carried backpack loads heavier than 15 percent of their body weight, which is the maximum weight that most experts recommend. The heavier their packs, the more strain on their backs, says Mark Halley, a physical therapist at ATI Physical Therapy.
“Oftentimes, injuries occur from repeatedly overloading the back, which can lead to overworked muscles, pain, and poor posture,” says Halley. “You can reduce the risk of acquiring back pain just by eliminating heavy loads and improper backpack wear.”
Bringing home all those books might get your child an A, but they can also damage their muscles if they continue to carry too much. This muscle damage can lead to faulty posture, improper spinal alignment, and additional long-term issues.
So, what do you do? If you still want your kids to bring home their books (and we’re guessing you do), Halley shares a few tips from nationally-recognized researchers at the American Physical Therapy Association, American Occupational Therapy Association, and Move Forward PT.
- Keep it close: Put the heaviest books closest to the back. The farther the weight is from the back, the harder the muscles have to work.
- Never more than four below: A backpack should never hang more than four inches below your child’s waist and should fit comfortably below the shoulders.
- Don’t let it lean: Using only one strap puts extreme pressure on one side of the body. Slip on both straps for more even weight distribution.
- Put on some padding: Look for backpacks with two widely padded shoulder straps to protect the shoulders and better distribute weight.
- Wear the waist belt: Choosing a backpack with a waist belt (and using it!) can help transfer some of the weight from the back and shoulders to the hips and torso.
- Clean it out: Regularly go through your child’s backpack and make sure everything in there is necessary. If it’s not, pull it out to help lighten the load.
- Try out a new set of wheels: If your child’s school allows it, consider a backpack on wheels. This helps forgo any weight issues by bearing a backpack that’s too heavy.
So, when you walk out to meet your child at the bus stop this week, take a moment to evaluate their posture. If they’re leaning to the left (or the right!) or wilting under the weight of their backpack, take some time to lighten their load and protect their posture.

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