11111With a new school year beginning, many students want to have the coolest backpack in school.  However, not wearing a backpack correctly can cause harm in the long run.  Brenda Erickson, an occupational therapist at Carlsbad Medical Center in Carlsbad, NM, is helping raise awareness on correct backpack usage for students and their parents at the Boys & Girls Club of Carlsbad before the school year starts.

Backpacks can cause damage to a child’s back, shoulders and arms – sometimes irreversible – if not worn correctly, she said.  If schools don’t allow the backpacks on wheels, the next best thing to get is a back pack with padded straps and a band for the waist.  Rolling backpacks or shoulder bags with a waist strap may be a little nerdy and harder to handle, but in the long term they may save your back.

According to information from the American Occupational Therapy Association, a backpack worn on one shoulder can curve the spine and cause pain or discomfort. A backpack – heavy or not – that bounces around can also jar the spine, Erickson said.  Before coming to practice in Carlsbad in January, Erickson worked in Minneapolis where she saw many children suffering from backpack-related pain.

But it’s not just backpacks that can cause discomfort, pain, nerve damage another health problems. Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant Ada Dunn told the students at the Boys & Girls Club about the time she dislocated her shoulder carrying around a large shopping bag on the streets of downtown San Francisco.  She warned the girls against carrying heavy purses and the athletes about evenly distributing the weight in their gym bags.  No bag should weigh more than 10 percent of a person’s body weight or sit lower than the small of his back, according to the therapists.  “The muscles in the back are the smallest in the body. Once you’ve hurt your back, it’s hard to get it back healthy,” Erickson said.  But if the bag must be heavy and carrying a few books by hand is not an option, Erickson suggested placing the backpack on a table and backing into it – evenly distributing the weight by wearing both shoulder straps and fastening the strap around the waist for best results.

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