I remember seeing a child with a complaint of shoulder pain in the office during the last school year. Did she have a history of trauma? No. Was she in athletics? Perhaps it was overuse. No. Did she ever injure her shoulder in the past? No, but she did complain of numbness and tingling in her arm as well. Was she sleeping on a lumpy or worn out mattress? No. It turns out that the problem was her backpack. She routinely carried about 40 pounds of books on her right shoulder every day and eventually she developed shoulder pain and nerve irritation.
Kids haul around a lot of stuff in those backpacks and they are a known source of shoulder and back pain in children. So much so, that there are medical studies devoted to the subject. As the school year begins, it’s a good time to make sure your child’s backpack meets criteria for carrying her homework, books and personal items in as safe and comfortable manner as possible.
Here are some things to look for in a backpack:
- The straps should be wide to distribute weight evenly. They should be easy to adjust.
- The pack should always be worn on both shoulders in order to allow easy balance. Some packs have a waist belt that can help to distribute weight better. Padding in the backpack reduces pressure points on the back.
- The pack itself should be fairly light-weight so that it doesn’t contribute much weight to the load. Some packs have wheels that allow them to be rolled like luggage. This is helpful, but keep in mind that in the winter they can’t roll through the snow.
You may also talk to your child and help her to organize her things efficiently in all of the compartments of the backpack. Heavier items should be centered on the back if possible. Encourage your child to make stops at her locker throughout the day rather than carry all of her supplies for the day at once. If despite these measures the pack seems to be too heavy (more that 20% of your child’s weight) talk to the school and other parents to encourage changes. Hopefully, with these measures you won’t need to worry that your child will come home complaining of a back ache.