Back to school is a stressful time for parents and kids. Between shopping for supplies and school clothes, arranging schedules and getting back into the swing of early mornings, catching buses and packing lunches, anxiety is unavoidable.
But parents can lighten their children’s loads considerably by making sure they aren’t carrying more weight than they can handle — in their backpacks.
Choosing a backpack that fits your child’s height, weight and needs can mean the difference between a healthy back and an overstressed one, experts say.
"There’s no such thing as one size fits all,” said Michael Dean, owner of Relax the Back stores in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. "There are about 160 moving parts in the spine, so it’s just ripe for problems.”
While studies show that back injury is not the most common injury associated with backpacks, it is basically the only one parents can help prevent.
A Consumer Product Safety Commission study reported 89 percent of backpack-related injuries have nothing to do with back pain. Instead, kids are tripping over their backpacks or using them as weapons against other kids more often than being injured by a too heavy or ill-fitting backpack.
But parents can take measures to ensure that their children are carrying appropriately-sized packs that not only will reduce their risk of back pain but will provide them with a less dangerous weapon over which they might trip.
"Seventy to 80 percent of all back and neck issues are caused by our own awkward postures that we do to ourselves over a considerable period of time,” Dean said.
Good back-care habits should start young, he said. Making sure your child’s backpack fits properly and is not overstuffed with books and other heavy objects can mean the difference between a strong and healthy back and one with aching muscles, fatigued ligaments and an unhealthy spine.
And with the rise in recent years of childhood obesity, Dean said doctors and physical therapists are seeing more backpack-related stress injuries.
Consumer Reports recently tested the latest and greatest in backpacks using 50 schoolchildren as subjects. The results showed that second- and fourth-graders were carrying backpacks of proper weight, but sixth-graders’ backpacks were tipping the scales, sometimes weighing as much as 30 pounds.