October 24, 2014

Doctor: Don’t crack your back with an overpacked backpack

With schools back in session across Nebraska there’s a warning about aches and pains from the misuse of backpacks. The weight really adds up considering text books, laptops, notebooks, cell phones and other items.

Pain specialist Dr. Douglas Keehn says the kids may not consider it a “cool” look, but they need to use both straps to better distribute the weight. Injuries are on the rise, according to a report from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

“They estimate that there has been a 300% increase in the number of backpack injuries over the last 17 years,” Dr. Keehn says. “Last year alone, 14,000 people saught medical care for backpack-related injuries.” Five-thousand of those went to the ER because of their injuries.

Dr. Keehn says it’s important to make sure the backpack is not too big or too small for the child’s frame, and be cognizant of what’s in it. Those with cute patterns, non-traditional straps or other superficial features might not be the right fit, according to Keehn.

“Messenger bags are also very popular, they’re great fashion items,” he says, “but once again, they’re probably not great for doing things like carrying your textbooks simply because you can’t really distribute the weight that you would be typically carrying.”

For example, soft athletic bags with thin rope straps, which are fine for carrying a pair of shorts and a light t-shirt to the gym, are not appropriate for heavy text books and laptops.

Keehn says the weight of the fully-loaded backpack should not be more than 10 to 15% of the student’s total body weight.

“How do you find the right backpack and fit it appropriately and how do you load it appropriately,” he says. “By doing those things, it makes a lot of sense that we would probably be able to reduce the number of backpack-related injuries we have each year.”

He offers a few tips: adjust the straps, both of which should be wide and padded over the shoulders, pack properly to distribute the weight, use both straps, lift with the knees, and don’t pack what you don’t need.