Backpack Problems and Safety Tips
Preventive Measures And Advice
Do you know the most common backpack problems and how to prevent them? For hikers, internal and external frame backpacks provide plenty of technical adjustments to handle the load.
Plus the professionals at outfitter stores and outdoor groups can give solid advice on how to deal with shoulder pain, rubbing or chaffing or poor weight distribution.
Kids are the most vulnerable population to develop aches and pains from improper backpack use. Think about it. Have you ever put your child’s school bag on the scale? With textbooks, binders, gym shoes and other daily gear, a backpack can easily reach up to 20 pounds. That’s a lot of strain on a growing body.
Let’s check the facts and get some advice from health professionals to increase your awareness and prevent backpack problems before it’s necessary to take a trip to the clinic.
Backpack User Facts
In the United States alone, there are over 40 million students carrying backpacks. A review of some statistics serves to show how simple problems can turn into physical stress. These scientific studies and reports highlight the need to pay attention to prevention.
Emergency Room Visits – A 2003 research study reported that more than 13,000 school age children visit emergency rooms each year for backpack problems from improper wear. (Archives of Disease and Childhood)(Archives of Disease and Childhood)
Backpack Injuries – More than 3,300 children aged 5 to 14 years were estimated to visit emergency rooms, not inclusive of family physicians, for injuries related to backpacks in one year. (The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 1998)
Rucksack Palsy – A common symptom of repeated backpack use resulting from pressure on nerves in the shoulder that cause numbness in hands. (Auburn University, Journal Ergonomics, 1997)
Common Backpack Problems
Your back acts like a shock absorber to cushion the strain of walking with weight. Young bodies are not strong enough to deal with the excessive loads and try to compensate with bad results.
Back Curvature – Growing teens with a full backpack try to counter-balance heavy weight by leaning forward. Over time the back tends to curve for this compensation position causing shoulder, neck and back pain in the process.
One Shoulder Wear – A cool look that causes wearers to lean to one side to offset the heavy weight on the other shoulder, the chances are high to develop lower and upper back pain, extra strain on your neck and shoulders and eventually poor posture.
Nerve Pinching – Narrow straps under heavy loads dig into your shoulders, pinch nerves and disrupt circulation to cause tingling and numbness in your hands and arms.
Backpack Removal – Drooping bags with weighty loads are difficult to remove properly. The body contorts in all kinds of awkward positions to get the darn thing off. Struggling is a problem sign and leads to back pain and strain. Learn how to lighten the load and use better techniques when taking off.
Bulky Loads – With all that stuff on your back and out of sight, you might not realize that a simple turning motion will smack the kid behind you in the face. Even worse are backpackers riding public buses and trains with a loaded weapon lurking in aisle. One quick turn wipes out an unsuspecting commuter.
Heavy Backpacks – Children running wearing heavy packs are likely to fall over and hurt themselves. To compensate for the load, a child changes the way he/she walks and usually gets out of balance.
Prevention And Advice
Adults are bigger and stronger enough to carry messenger bags and computer bags, though backpack problems still occur; kids are too susceptible to backpack problems. The American Chiropractic Association recommends that children carry no more than 10% of their body weight on their back.
A correctly worn backpack distributes the weight across the body and shoulders evenly without one side bearing more than the other. A good backpack is invaluable for keeping kids’ gear organized in one place. Try to pay attention to backpack design, construction, fashion versus function, and proper use factors to prevent backpack problems from becoming a major health issue.
Advice from The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) on childrens’ backpacks:
- Check the weight of the backpack itself to avoid heavier packs (e.g leather, heavy canvas) that add to the load.
- Shoulder straps can be too wide and slip off one side, or too narrow and dig into small shoulders.
- Padded back provide better comfort and add protection against getting poked by sharp objects (e.g. pencils, rulers, notebooks).
- Even a simple waist belt or webbing aids to distribute the weight or keep loads tighter to the back.
- Check all the compartments to see where the load goes and see if weight is spread out evenly.
Extra Tips For Backpack Users
Take the time to test some of these extra tips to find the best way for you to avoid back problems. If you find yourself bending over forward, unable to walk upright or feeling pain in your shoulders, then it’s time to take action.
For parents, spend a few minutes watching your child’s backpack behavior for a few days and see if you can spot some problem signs. Then work together to find a solution.
Construction – Be picky and consider how important it is to get a quality backpack that withstands daily use and abuse while supporting your child’s back. Strong, padded straps need to fit the child’s shoulder width and be well stitched into the pack body.
Pick Up – Work with your child to find the best way to pick up a heavy bag. Place on a table or chair seat first and bend your knees to lift with legs. Avoid swinging action by bending down before putting on.
Wheels – Roll a backpack instead of lugging it around. This option works well if students can avoid pulling it up stairways or trying to track through soil and snow. Make sure your school doesn’t consider them hazards in the hallways.
Limit Load – Keep the weight down to 10% of your body weight. Pull out the bathroom scale and find out just how heavy the load really is. And then leave some stuff at home.
Locker – Use your school locker for items you don’t need to lug around, like gym gear and project materials, to lighten your classroom load. Make more trips to your locker if time permits.
Plan Ahead – Try to figure out what you need during the week and plan to carry textbooks and homework stuff spread out over the next few days. Good luck.
Exercise – For a long term solution, start to exercise and strengthen your torso, back, shoulders and arms to handle the heavy loads as you progress through school.