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The Village News, Bellport's Paperless NewspaperColumns Your Health


Physical Therapy
By Dr. Gary Welch

We’d like to thank Dr. Gary Welch, owner of Spectrum Physical Therapy in East Patchogue, for contributing information that we’re sure our readers will want to know. As we get older, or due to injuries, physical therapy is often the way back to our normal lives.


How to Pick Out and Adjust the Proper Backpack for Your Child


All of our kids are wearing backpacks to school that are actually considered fashion statements these days. You see some millennials wearing them at events that don’t even warrant a backpack, but are worn because they are perceived as a cool piece of apparel. But are you aware of the hidden dangers behind these backpacks and the long term effects they have on our bodies?

This article is meant to educate both children and adults about buying the right backpack and how to adjust it correctly for the best fit and to reduce the stress it can put on your shoulders, neck, and back.

Have you noticed how heavy and big your kid’s backpacks have gotten over the years, even the young kids in elementary school? They’ve gone from holding 10-15 pounds, to holding 35-45 pounds. Now, add the frequency and duration that the kids are wearing them and we have an overuse injury waiting to happen. As a little side note; with today’s technology, I don’t know why we haven’t gone to electronic books that we can store on our computers or iPads. If the kids could have all of their school books stored on a computer, it would eliminate carrying so much weight in backpacks. Schools, are you listening?

Long term wearing of a heavy backpack can cause strain injuries to the muscles around your neck, shoulders, and mid to low back. The compression on your spine from the weight causes your discs to compress, increases pressure on the vertebrae and can even cause scoliosis, a curvature of the spine.

A backpack should never weigh more than 15% of your child’s normal body weight. This does not hold true if your child is overweight. Here’s an example. Let’s say your child weighs 100 pounds. Their backpack should not weigh more than 15 pounds. If they weigh 125 pounds, the backpack shouldn’t weigh more than 19 pounds.

Encourage your child to only pack what they really need. Throwing a lot of unnecessary items in can lead to the backpack becoming overweight. Asking for a duplicate book, so that you have one at home and one at school, eliminates the need for books to be carried back and forth to school. Keeping books in a locker and only carrying the ones that are needed for the next one or two classes can eliminate a lot of the stress and strain too. We know that we want our kids to stay hydrated, but a large water bottle weighs a lot. Consider limiting it to 16 ounces and refilling the bottle at school.

Buying the right backpack...

BackpacksThe backpacks over the years have gone from small to very large, engulfing some of our little kids and are simply just too large.

• Look for a backpack that is light. It should be made from a lightweight canvas, rather than leather or suede.
• Look for wide straps. The wider a strap is, the less pressure it puts on the neck and shoulder areas. A smaller strap increases pressure on these areas. Also look to see if the straps are padded. This can help reduce pressure. A little padding on the front side of the backpack will help add comfort and reduce some pressure on your child’s back. It can also reduce the possibility of a pencil poking through the material into your child’s back.
• Another thing to look for is a waist strap. This can help distribute the weight throughout the trunk and decrease some of the pressure on the shoulders and also keep the backpack from moving around too much.

Wearing it right...

I see kids and adults wearing their backpacks over one shoulder. This is an easy and maybe cool way to wear it, but all of the weight is going onto one shoulder. The weight should be evenly distributed over both shoulders to decrease the pressure and to help keep the pack balanced. Here are several ways to adjust your backpack.

• Shoulder strap adjustment so that the top of the back pack is at the level of the shoulder blades with the bottom resting in the curve of the lower back. Some backpacks are so long, that this fitment wont’ be possible. Try your best to make it fit!
• Wear the waist strap, which will help keep the backpack secure to your trunk and prevent the backpack from moving around causing weight shifting and help with balancing the weight across the body.
• Don’t forget to weigh the backpack loaded and keep it under 15% of your child’s weight.

Enjoy your new backpack and make the weighing of the backpack a fun and learning experience. Have your child weigh themselves on a scale and then put the loaded backpack on the scale and do the math. You might try guessing the weight of the backpack before you weigh it. How close were you?


Dr. Gary Welch, owner of Spectrum Physical Therapy, Physical Therapist Practitioner of the Year, and Stony Brook Alumnus of the Year, is offering his staff’s services to members of the Bellport, Brookhaven Hamlet, and East Patchogue communities. Dr. Welch is one of only two physical therapists in New York State who is both a certified functional manual therapist and a certified orthopedic manual therapist. Click here for more information about Spectrum Physical Therapy.

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