House Calls runs every other Thursday. Today's column is written by Sharryn Jones, a physical therapist at Sutter Coast Hospital.

The time has come for school to start again here in Crescent City after the Labor Day holiday.

As some school districts consider swapping heavy textbooks for e-reader tablets, local health experts understand the impact an overloaded backpack can have on a child - aching back and shoulders, tingling arms, stooped posture and weakened muscles. But parents can help prevent these possible pains in a few simple ways.

According to experts within the Sutter Health System, parents are often surprised at how much their child's backpack actually weigh. As a general rule, to prevent injury, your child's full backpack should weigh no more than 10 to 20 percent of his or her body weight.

How a student wears his or her backpack is often just as important as

its overall weight.

Kids often wear their bag slung over one shoulder or so low that it

sits below their waist. This could cause neck and muscle spasms, lower

back pain or even numbness and tingling in a student's arms.

While some experts disagree on whether heavy backpacks are the source

of back pain in children, most agree that using good judgment when

wearing one will reduce the potential risk of backpack-related injuries.

Here are some tips to lighten the strain on your child's back:

andbull; Make sure the back pack is the correct size. It should be no larger

than your child's back and should rest 1-2 inches below the shoulders

and no more than 4 inches above the waistline (level with the


andbull; Leather is fashionable, but it's heavier than nylon

andbull; Buy a backpack with a well padded back and wide, padded shoulder

straps to minimize pressure on the shoulders and collarbone. Shoulders

and necks have many blood vessels and nerves that can cause pain and

tingling in the neck, arms, and hands when too much pressure is applied

andbull; Carry the pack on both shoulders to spread the weight evenly.

Wearing a pack slung over one shoulder can cause a child to lean to one

side, curving the spine and causing pain or discomfort

andbull; Tighten the shoulder straps so the bag lies ideally about 2 inches

above the waist. A pack that hangs loosely from the back can pull the

child backwards and strain muscles

andbull; Consider a backpack with a waist belt. This helps distribute the

packs weight more evenly.

andbull; Pack the heaviest items closest to the center of the back to

minimize additional strain. Organize the pack so items will not shift

around and rest comfortably against the back

andbull; Bend both knees instead of leaning over when hoisting a heavy bag.

andbull; Where possible, talk to your child about using his or her locker to

keep from carrying everything around all day. Make sure what your child

carries to school and brings home are necessary to the day's activities

andbull; On days the pack is too heavy, your child can hand-carry a book or

other item. Another consideration is to use a book bag on wheels.

andbull; If your child is experiencing neck or back pain, see his or her

doctor. A referral to a physical therapist may be beneficial to help

with a strengthening program and to address pain issues.

Pack it light, wear it right!

Email suggestions for future House Calls columns to Beth Liles at

Sutter Coast Hospital,