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Before you buy new backpacks this year and load up your kids with notebooks and other supplies, consider this: Children and teens who carry more weight than they should can experience neck and back pain as a result of the wear and tear on their spines. Plus, even a single day’s overload can cause injury.
Here’s what you need to know to keep your child safe.
Watch the weight. “About 10 percent to 15 percent of the child’s weight is about as much as he or she should carry,” says Brent Morgan, M.D., a neurosurgeon on the medical staff at Baylor Regional Medical Center at Plano, who adds that even if a child’s backpack weighs less than this standard, it might still be too much.
“Watch your child walk and make sure he’s not hunched over or walking with poor posture,” he advises.
Choose well. Look for a backpack with padded straps and waist belt as well as a lumbar pillow to cushion the child’s back, suggests Dr. Morgan.
Wear it right. To protect their backs, he says, children should always wear backpacks using both straps to evenly distribute the weight across the back. And remind then to use the waist belt, too.
Teach kids how to pack. “Show kids how to load their backpacks properly,” Dr. Morgan says. “Books and other heavy items should be closest to the back, with the lightest items further away.”
Take additional precautions. “A child shouldn’t wear a backpack while riding a bike or skateboard,” Dr. Morgan says. “It affects their balance.”
And while in a car, make sure the backpack is safely stowed under a seat or in the trunk. “If it’s unrestrained and you’re in an accident,” he explains, “it could get lose and hurt someone.”
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