Backpack Safety: How to Avoid Injury

Your backpack: It’s something you use every day, but do you know how to use it correctly? This month is Backpack Awareness month and we have some backpack safety pointers on how not to end up with a hunch back before college.

Millions of kids around the country throw on a backpack when they’re four and five, and then hardly take it off for the next 14 years. The result is a generation of kids who are apt to have back trouble. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, an estimated 7,000 kids go to emergency rooms every year because of backpack-related pain and injuries. Is there anything less cool than sitting out the entire basketball season because you had a bad run-in with a canvas bag and a couple of straps?

A recent survey conducted by the organization Backpack Safety America found that, of 200 chiropractors, 180 had patients who landed in their offices because of book bag-injuries. “Back surgery is already the second most performed surgery in this country, and the generation that has been most affected by backpacks hasn’t even reached adulthood yet,” says John Carroll, co-founder of Backpack Safety America. This month, over 400 participating doctors and other health professionals will make presentations in schools about how to avoid eventually looking like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. We asked Carroll for the presentations’ Cliffs’ Notes:

Never carry more than 15 percent of your body weight. That means that if you weigh a 140 pounds, your backpack should weigh 21 pounds max.

If you have a really heavy book that you need to bring to or from school, try carrying it in your hands for a while in order to give your back a break.

Only carry what’s necessary. If there are a lot of heavy books that you absolutely must lug to and fro every day, it might be wise to invest in two copies—one for home and one for school.

Wear it on both shoulders. Too much weight on one shoulder is uncomfortable and unsafe. Coming to school in a cast because your backpack was too heavy and you lost your balance is not going to get you much pity.

Pick the right bag. Your backpack should take up about three quarters of the length between the shoulder blades and your lower back. It’s also not a bad idea to pick one that has a waist strap for extra support. No, it might not look super cool, but it also doesn’t look cool walking around like Quasimodo.

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