Russell Ellis, MD

Back to school doesn’t have to mean backpack shoulder pain

Back to school doesn’t have to mean backpack shoulder pain

Depending on where you live, your kids may have been attending virtual school for all or part of the last semester. So this August may mark their first return to “normal” school in months. And going back to the classroom means a return to that stack of books — and homework, packed lunches, and sports equipment — that have to go back and forth to school with your kids.

Backpacks are a virtually universal way to make sure all those things get to school and back home every day. But they can also be a potential cause of shoulder and back pain for the kids who carry them. Here are a few tips to help your child carry what they need without risking injury:

Buy the right backpack
Look for a lightweight pack, one that doesn’t add a lot of weight to your child’s load. For example, leather packs look great, but they weigh more than canvas backpacks. Also choose one that has two wide, padded shoulder straps; narrow straps can dig into shoulders. A waist belt is also helpful in distributing weight more evenly.

Lighten the load.
No matter how well-designed the backpack, less weight is always better. Use the bathroom scale to check that a pack isn’t over 10 percent to 15 percent of your child’s body weight (for example, a child who weighs 80 pounds shouldn’t carry a backpack that weighs more than 8 to 12 pounds).

Carry it wisely
Step one is to ensure kids know the right way to pick up a heavy pack to avoid back injuries. As with any heavy weight, they should bend at the knees and grab the pack with both hands. Make sure they carry the bag with both shoulder straps, too. Bags that are slung over the shoulder or across the chest — or that only have one strap — aren’t as effective at distributing the weight as bags with two wide shoulder straps, potentially straining muscles. Make sure the pack is adjusted properly by tightening the straps enough for the backpack to fit closely to the body. The pack should rest evenly in the middle of the back and not sag down to the buttocks.

Pack it right
The most carefully chosen pack can still cause unnecessary strain or injury if it’s not packed properly. Be sure your kids are using all the backpack’s compartments, putting heavier items, such as textbooks, closest to the center of the back. Also, encourage them to use their lockers often throughout the day instead of carrying the entire day’s worth of books in the backpack. Homework planning can also help limit the number of books that come home every night.

If you’re already seeing signs of back pain as your child struggles with a heavy backpack, consider talking to a physician for guidance about avoiding severe or permanent injury.
Working with a specialized practice like DOC Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine in Decatur and Hartselle, you can take advantage of the expertise of its ten providers including Dr. Russell Ellis.
Raised in Morgan County, Dr. Ellis received his Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Alabama School of Medicine at Birmingham. Following graduation, he completed his residency at the University of Tennessee College of Medicine at Chattanooga in the field of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation while serving as Chief Resident his final year. After residency, Dr. Ellis spent an additional year as a Sports Medicine Fellow at the American Sports Medicine Institute in Birmingham where he trained under Dr. Tracy Ray and renowned sports medicine physician, Dr. James Andrews. He currently serves as team physician for several area high schools and Calhoun Community College.
Since 1972, DOC Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine has been committed to providing exceptional orthopaedic care through innovative techniques, quality services, patient communication, and education. With specialties ranging from general orthopaedics and physical therapy to sports medicine, joint replacement, and more, the doctors at DOC Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine can provide local expert care for any orthopaedic disorder or injury and help put your life back in motion.

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