They may be popular, but they're not safe.

That's what experts are saying about the one-strap backpacks popping up in school hallways these days.

Rachel Hagemeyer, an occupational therapist at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, said making sure book bags fit properly and aren't too heavy is key to preventing long-term health issues. She said about 2,000 children end up in emergency rooms every year because of backpack-related injuries.

“Overloaded backpacks can cause damage ranging from back strain and shoulder pain to spinal curvatures and nerve injuries,” Hagemeyer said. “They can result in numbness and tingling down the arms and hands, and if left untreated, can lead to muscle atrophy.”

According to Hagemeyer, the one-strap backpacks can do some of the worst harm.

“You definitely want two well-padded shoulder straps, so the weight is dispersed evenly,” Hagemeyer said. “The one-strap versions can pull one shoulder down more than the other, stretching out the muscles, ligaments and tendons.”

Hagemeyer said taking preventive measures could make all the difference.

“In addition to having two padded shoulder straps, bags should also have padding on the back,” Hagemeyer said. “They should be adjustable and fit snuggly.”

She said they should sit no higher than two inches below the top of the shoulder and should only extend to the waistline. According to Hagemeyer, those that dip below the small of the back tend to pull backwards on the shoulders.

“They also shouldn't weigh more than 10-15 percent of the child's total body weight,” Hagemeyer said. “So, if a kid is 100 pounds, his or her backpack should be no more than 10-15 pounds. Anything over that amount should be carried in their hands in front of them.”

Book bags with chest and waist straps can help distribute the weight. Hagemeyer recommends that students only carry what they need to and from school.

“If it's not something they need for homework, they should leave it at school,” Hagemeyer said. “Middle and high school students are especially guilty of overloading their bags because they do more homework and are packing instruments, sports supplies and everything else.”

She suggested putting the heaviest items into a bag first then organizing the rest of the items on top so they don't shift around.

“If a kid starts having numbness, tingling down the arms or any pain, that's when they should get checked out by a physician,” Hagemeyer said. “Injuries sustained in childhood can plague people long after they become adults.”

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