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Guest column: Backpack tips to keep your child healthy

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By Josh Pallen, for Wausau Pilot and Review

With the end of summer approaching, a new school year is just around the corner.  As you shop for school supplies, it is important to make sure you select a backpack that is the right fit for your child.  Improper fitting or usage of a backpack may lead to injury.  According to The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), approximately 55% of students carry a backpack that is heavier than the recommended guidelines.  Listed below are some simple tips to help select the right backpack and use backpacks in a safe manner.

Pallen, Josh 82017
Josh Pallen, PT, DPT, MS, is Supervisor of Rehab Services at Ascension Medical Group, 1901 Westwood Center Boulevard, Wausau. For more information, please visit ascension.org/Wisconsin

Ideal features when selecting a backpack:

  1. Pick a backpack that has two wide shoulder straps that are heavily padded. This helps distribute the pressure and reduce stress on the shoulders.
  2. A padded back is ideal to reduce pressure and prevent objects inside the backpack from poking the child’s back.
  3. A waist and/or chest strap to keep the load close to the trunk.
  4. A backpack that has bright colors with reflective material to help drivers see your child at night.

Tips to use backpacks safely:

  1. Wear both shoulder straps to help promote symmetrical load on the trunk. Wearing only one strap or using a backpack that only has one strap causes asymmetrical forces that could lead to additional stress on your muscles and joints.
  2. Always try to keep your neck and your back straight when wearing a backpack. It is easy to get in the habit of leaning forward or looking down while walking, but poor posture can lead to additional mechanical stress on your spine. Poor posture could eventually lead to muscle imbalances and pain issues, so keep your back healthy by keeping your back straight!
  3. Make sure you pick out the right size backpack for your child and have the child try it on. The bottom of the backpack should rest in the curve of the low back – it should not hang down by the buttocks.
  4. Make sure that you never overload a backpack. Research suggests that the load for any backpack should never exceed 15% of the child’s body weight. For example, a child that weighs 100 lbs. should never wear a backpack heavier than 15 lbs.
  5. If your child ever experiences any pain, numbness, tingling, or red marks the backpack is likely too heavy. Also remind your child to never bend at the waist when picking up a backpack. Always bend at your hips and knees.

Josh Pallen, PT, DPT, MS, is Supervisor of Rehab Services at Ascension Medical Group, 1901 Westwood Center Boulevard, Wausau. For more information, please visit ascension.org/Wisconsin

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