Back2School: How heavy is too heavy for your child's backpack?

By Haley Hernandez - Health Reporter

HOUSTON - When it comes to backpacks, they can be a real pain for children. As the kids head back to school, one doctor has some tips to help keep your child's back safe.

Two-inch shoulder straps and no less, and experts said the wider, the better when it comes to straps on children’s backpacks.

“Having a chest strap or waist strap can redistribute the pressures to the hips and across the chest area, and it's better to have a backpack that fits at the torso size,” said Dr. Rosalyn Nguyen, of Baylor College of Medicine.

Nguyen said this is critical to making sure your child doesn't suffer from pain this year, or even years down the road.

“It can lead to numbness in the arm, sometimes, if it's too much compression on the nerves,” she said, “It can lead to neck pain, shoulder pain (and) muscle aches.”

Pediatric experts recommend 10 to 15 percent of your kids' body weight as the maximum amount they can carry on their backs. This means that if your child weighs about 70 pounds, about 10 pounds would be the max. However, Nguyen said parents should aim for less.

“I would be conservative and err towards the 10 percent just because … at 15 percent it can cause abnormalities of the curvature of the spine,” she said.

Nguyen said kids should never be stooping forward, or struggling to put on their backpack. That means it's way too heavy and could hurt them.

If you want to try to ease the weight, you can place the heavier items toward the back, closer to the body. If there are multiple compartments, that's better because you can distribute the weight evenly in the different compartments.

Also, Nguyen said, make sure they sit up straight. It's not just a nagging phrase, staying as upright as possible even while sitting can help make sure they're pain free for life.

“When you sit, the whole upper body weight, including head and neck presses down on the lowest disc and there have been studies that have shown that most of the pressures do exert down to the lowest part of the disc and so that's a lot of compression, especially if they're seated for prolonged periods of time and students can sit for hours and hours on end at their desk and then doing homework at night," Nguyen said. "So, getting up to stretch every 20 minutes or so, or even in the seat just changing the position can redistribute the pressures and loads on the disc.”

Same goes for adults, she said. While sitting at a computer you want to make sure that the computer screen is right at eye level. Don't lean too far forward, too far back, look too high up or too far down. Nguyen said lumbar support pillows can also help.

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