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Pack it Light, Wear it Right

Originally published on the British Columbia Chiropractic Association website.

All across Canada, children struggle with their overloaded backpacks on a daily basis- as they stuff the necessities of schoolwork, sports gear, food and drinks into the smallest possible space before heading off to school. New research indicates that there are long-term health risks associated with youth wearing a poorly designed or overloaded backpack or in carrying too much weight for their growing spinal columns. In fact, over 50% of Canadian youth will suffer at least one back pain episode during their school years.

A recent study at Queen's University has found that choosing the right backpack and taking care to distribute the weight evenly can make a big difference in avoiding painful injuries.

The British Columbia Chiropractic Association has become concerned with the alarming trend in avoidable injuries to the neck, shoulders, and back, and has recently launched a backpack safety program called "Pack it Light. Wear it Right." They are teaming up with educators throughout British Columbia to help prevent future injuries. They have prepared information including posters and info sheets for parents and educators as well as backpack tips and colouring sheets for students.

They also need your help in discussing ways to help your children carry their loads comfortably and safely. For instance, did you know that?

  • Elementary students should not carry more than 10% of their body weight and secondary students should avoid weight exceeding 15% of their weight? So, if your child is 80 pounds, he shouldn't carry more than eight pounds- or the equivalent of a pair of shoes, a snack, drink and 2-3 textbooks.
  • Backpacks should be made of the lightest material possible- vinyl and canvas are much better than leather.
  • The top of the backpack should not extend higher than the top of the shoulder and the bottom should not fall below the top of the hipbone.
  • The shoulder straps should be at least 2 inches wide and should not fit too snugly around the arms, straining muscles and affecting nerves.
  • A hip strap or waist belt can take as much as 50-70% of the weight off the shoulders and spine. The waist belt will equalize the strain on the bones, joints and muscles.
  • Students should pack the heaviest items closest to the body so that the weight is nearest the body's own centre of gravity.
  • A backpack that is too heavy or rides too low causes one to lean forward and put extra strain on the back.

For more back to school tips go to our Families section.

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