Backpack strategies

Posted: Friday, August 11, 2000

BOSTON -- Is your child turning into a beast of burden, asks Karen Jacobs, occupational therapy professor at Boston University's Sargent College.

Jacobs, current president of the American Occupational Therapy Association, said it's not unusual for loaded backpacks commonly used by schoolchildren to weigh 20, 30, or even 50 pounds.

That's an awful lot for a kid to carry. Making matters worse, some youngsters sling the pack over one shoulder, de-equalizing the load. And some schools limit access to lockers during the day, so a child can't offload some of the burden.

So don't be surprised if your child complains of pain in the neck and shoulder, and sometimes even the arms.

The top of the shoulder where the staps rest is rich in nerves and blood vessels that serve much of the rest of the body. Excessive weight in a backpack can lead to health problems for the child.

Watch for aching in the shoulders, neck and back, cautioned Jacobs. Other warning signs are pain or tingling in the arms, wrist and hands, especially at night; muscle weakness; red marks and creases on the shoulder; struggling to get the backpack on and off; and noticeable imbalances in the child's posture, including tilting the head and neck to one side and an unevent gait.

Jacobs offers these basic guidelines for safe backpacking:

The weight of the backpack should not exceed 15 percent of the child's body weight. Thus a 50-pound child should carry a loaded backpack weighing no more than 7 pounds.

Both straps should be worn across the shoulders and upper back to equalize the weight. Padded straps are the best.

Consider alternatives, such as luggage carts, or backpacks equipped with wheels.

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