Health Day - ONLINE EDITION

Expert Offers Backpack Safety Tips

When kids carry too much, muscle strains and back pain can occur

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FRIDAY, Aug. 15, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Parents need to make safety a priority when shopping for school backpacks for their children, an expert advises.

"About 6,000 children are injured each year from wearing an inappropriate backpack," Linda Rhodes, senior occupational therapist at Children's Hospital of Georgia, said in a Georgia Regents University news release.

"While it is important to have the necessary books, supplies, and tools handy in your child's backpack, you should also be sure that you are doing your best to prevent an injury," said Rhodes, who offered advice on how to select the right backpack for your child. "As practical as they are, backpacks can strain muscles and joints, and cause back pain if they are too heavy or used incorrectly," she noted.

It's important to get a backpack that's the right size for your child. "It should cover no more than 75 percent of the length of your child's back, which is approximately the space between the shoulder blades and waist," Rhodes said.

Choose a lightweight pack that has two wide, padded shoulder straps and a padded back to protect youngsters from being poked by the sharp edges of pens, rulers and other items inside the backpack.

The maximum weight of a loaded backpack should not exceed 15 percent of a child's body weight. Be sure that the weight of the contents are evenly distributed in the backpack, and place the heaviest books closest to the child's back.

"If the backpack forces the child to lean forward to carry it, then it's overloaded," Rhodes said.

Be sure your child lifts the backpack correctly. He or she should face the backpack and bend at both knees. Using both hands, the child should lift with the legs and position one shoulder strap and then the other. Be sure your child uses both shoulder straps when wearing the backpack. The straps should be snug, but not too tight.

Rhodes also advises parents not to put their child's name on the outside of the backpack. "What I mean by that is, it's OK to write your child's name inside somewhere to help identify the backpack, but it may not be safe to have your child's name on full display for others to see," she said. "After all, if someone calls your child by name, it could confuse the child into trusting someone he or she should not."

More information

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has more about backpack safety.

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