Get the gear for a Successful School Year

Working on the 'back to school' check list? An appropriate backpack for managing school items should be top on the list. When used appropriately, the backpack can distribute the weight of the items through the legs via the relatively strong core muscles of the back and hips. An "A grade" backpack is essential because school age children are not as skeletally mature as adults, so they are more susceptible to strains to their growing musculoskeletal system.

An "A grade" backpack:

  • Fits correctly and has the right features
  • Worn correctly
  • Not overloaded

Fit and Features: Select the right backpack and make sure it fits

First of all, a desired feature is light in weight, so the back pack itself is not a stressor. Secondly, wide straps are a necessity to spread the weight of the pack and contents over a greater area. Various compartments for items assist in weight distribution and aid in organization. There should be at least one strap to cinch on the outside that moves the load closer to the user's back. Finally, reflective materials are a safety bonus when visibility may be in question.

The fit of the backpack is as equally important as its features. The back of the pack should fit snugly in the mid-back. The bottom of the pack should rest in the lumbar area, rather than over the tailbone. If it rests too low on the back, it will pull the student backward, causing the student to slouch forward to offset this stress, which in turn can cause muscle strain. While it may be tempting to order the pack online, it is better to test the fit at the store, ensuring a correct fit.

Wear the pack with a double strap

Often students will use only one shoulder strap, creating a twist in the student's posture, which could lead to an injury. Using both shoulder straps evens the load. While it may not look as cool to use two straps, back pain isn't cool either.

Manage the contents inside the pack

Experts recommend that the weight of the pack, including contents, not exceed 15% of the student's body weight. Interestingly, a study showed that younger age children (upper elementary age) tend to exceed this guideline more than older students. A heavy pack not only fatigues the muscles while being worn, but also strains muscles when taken on and off each time. Heavier items should be placed closer to the spine so the weight can be transferred more effectively down the legs. Lighter items and those used more frequently should be placed near the outer part of the pack.

Wheels aren't necessarily better

Some students opt to use a rolling pack instead of a backpack to tote their items. Studies have found that these may be less effective in managing back pain than a properly fitting backpack. In addition, the wheels add weight to the system.

Fit for life

An "A Grade" back pack to carry school items is just one piece of the health puzzle for school students. Too much time in front of the computer (especially playing games) and too much time spent bent over a phone texting or gaming can cause bad posture and place stress on back and neck muscles and joints. While some computer time is inevitable, it is best to limit this time and break it up with some movement.

Daily exercise of thirty to sixty minutes is essential for growing bodies. Exercise can be simple like a daily walk, bike ride, yoga or gardening. Video games designed to promote activity can also be fun for kids and adults. Adults should take the lead in modeling healthy habits as students also learn from their role models at home. Here's to making the upcoming school year a healthy one.

Joyce Rathfon is a Physical Therapist and Athletic Trainer at Augusta Health Outpatient Therapy. She is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and Boston University. Contact Dana H. Breeding, RN Health Educator from Community Outreach, at Augusta Health, related to the above information, at 332-4988 or 932-4988.