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Published on August 27, 2014

Mom, My Back Hurts!

August 27, 2014

Child carrying overloaded backpackThat could become a regular complaint from your child as the school year begins, unless you select the proper backpack and teach him to wear it correctly.

One image from last school year stuck with you all summer—the sight of your 9-year-old son and three friends walking to your minivan after school one afternoon. Two of the boys were bent slightly forward. The other two were leaning to one side. All of them were straining under the weight of overloaded, improperly worn backpacks. The scene was almost comical, but the effects of incorrect backpack usage are no joke.

Overloaded backpacks or backpacks worn in ways that distribute weight unevenly across the shoulders and back can lead to muscle and joint pain, hinder blood circulation and nerve function, and throw posture out of whack. With a new academic year set to start, you have an opportunity to help your student break the cycle of backpack blunders. The process starts during your back-to-school shopping trip.

Finding the Right Fit

Your child needs a new backpack, and she has some thoughts about color and brand. Allow her to choose a book bag that reflects her style, but ensure it meets safety criteria from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)—two broad, cushioned shoulder bands, a padded back and a waist strap. The product should also be lightweight.

You have a sufficiently safe, “awesomely cool” backpack—mission (half) accomplished. Now, share these tips with your son to ensure he doesn’t turn his new carrier into a full-to-bursting, one shoulder-slung imitation of last year’s:

  • Lighten up. Only use backpacks to carry necessary school items. If a textbook isn’t needed for homework, leave it at school. The AAP and the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) recommend children carry no more than 20 percent of their body weight in a backpack.
  • Pack precisely. Place the heaviest items in the bottom of the backpack and keep them away from the edges so the weight won’t cause leaning.
  • Wear it well. High and tight—that’s a simple description of how to properly wear a backpack. With straps looped across both shoulders, tighten the backpack until it hugs the back two inches above the waist.

Finally, welcome back talk—encourage your child to tell you if her back hurts. It may mean you need to adjust her backpack or shop for a new one.

No Mean Feet

Back-to-school shoe shopping with your child is a tall order—after only one store and five pairs tried on, she starts to wish the experience would end. If you’re completely honest, the feeling is mutual. The effort to find a good fit is worth it, however—poorly fitted shoes can lead to problems from toes to heel, including blisters, ingrown toenails and arch pain.

Ensure the shoes you and your child choose pass the following tests:

  • Roominess—There should be at least a finger’s width of breathing space between the big toe and the end of the shoe, according to the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons (ACFAS).
  • Support—Adequate arch and heel cushioning are crucial.
  • Walk-out wearability—Shoes should feel comfortable immediately, according to the American Podiatric Medical Association. Your child likely won’t have the time or patience to break shoes in.

The KishHealth System Physical Therapy Center offers Speech, Physical, and Occupational Therapy for children and adolescents. Learn more about the unique approach designed just for kids!


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