Backpack Safety

Backpack Safety

Editor: Dr. Kathryn Flood, PT, DPT, – Physical Therapist, Specialized Physical Therapy in North Reading, MA.

image05Labor Day is here and that means one of two things:
1) the unofficial end of summer



With every back to school season, backpack safety
is always a major concern. Backpacks that are too heavy or are worn incorrectly can cause problems for children and teenagers.


Improperly used backpacks may injure muscles and joints. This can lead to severe back, neck, and shoulder pain, as well as posture problems. In addition, 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.image02


POSTURE: If your child’s backpack is too heavy or if your child chooses to wear their backpack on one shoulder, his or her posture may be compromised. It is important to encourage good posture at a young age to prevent excessive kyphosis or scoliosis in adulthood.
WEIGHT: It is recommended that kids carry no more than 10% to 15% of their body weight in their packs.

Child’s Weight / Backpack Weight
50 pounds / 5 pounds
75 pounds / 7.5 pounds
100 pounds / 10 pounds
125 pounds / 12.5 pounds
150 pounds / 15 pounds

STRAP THICKNESS: It is important that the straps are thick and have good cushioning and support. Thinner straps can dig into your child’s shoulders which can put unwanted pressure on blood vessels and nerves and can cause numbness and tingling in the arms and fingers.


When packing the backpack, be sure to keep heavier and bulkier items closer to the back, and lighter and smaller items towards the front. This will reduce to amount of stress through your child’s spine. Additionally, try to keep only the essential items in the pack that are required for the school day or for homework.


Your child’s backpack should never be wider or longer than your child’s torso and never hanging more than 4 inches below the waist.


When searching for the right backpack, looks for ones that have a waist strap. This will allow you to distribute the weight more evenly across the body. Some backpacks come equipped with both a waist and sternum strap which will add even more support. Also, look for backpacks that have a cushioned back. Not only will this provide additional support, but will also help prevent your child from getting poked by pointy objects (edges of books, rulers, pens, pencils, etc.)


When your child is lifting the backpack off the floor be sure he or she is bending at the knees and not at the back.



1.  Watch your child put on or take off a backpack to see if he or she has difficulty.
2.  Ask your child if he or she is having any symptoms: numbness or tingling in the arms or fingers, or pain in the neck, back or shoulders. If your child is having any of these symptoms, don’t hesitate to contact your physician or physical therapist.
3.  Buy paperback textbooks. Hardcover textbooks can add extra bulk and weight to your child’s load. Buying the paperback textbooks will not only save you money, but can help preserve your child’s back as well.
4.  Talk to the school about lightening the load. Be sure the school allows students to stop at their lockers throughout the day. Team up with other parents to encourage changes.
5.  Take advantage of advancements in technology. Several books, including textbooks, are now available to purchase on the web and can be viewed on portable electronic devices.



At Specialized Physical Therapy, we can help you choose a proper backpack and fit it specifically to your child. Children come in all shapes and sizes, and some have physical limitations that require special adaptations.
In some cases, we will vigorously advocate for the student so their books can be left at home to avoid unnecessary back and spine injury.
Additionally, we can help improve posture problems, correct muscle imbalances, and treat pain that can result from improper backpack use. At Specialized Physical Therapy, we also design individualized fitness programs to help children get strong and stay strong—and carry their own loads!

Foam Rolling Benefits

Foam Rolling Benefits

Editor: Dr. Amy Spencer, PT, DPT, OCS, MTC, CSCS, CKTP - A Board Certified Clinical Specialist in Orthopedic Physical Therapy and Certified Manual Therapist. Owner and Physical Therapist, Specialized Physical Therapy in North Reading, MA.

Everyone has seen those long cylindrical foam tubes at the gym and may have even seen athletes stretching with them- but what are the benefits of using foam rollers and which one to 2014-02-02_115326choose?

The basic idea of foam rolling is using your own body weight to slowly glide over a foam roller to offer a deep self-massage. Foam rolling offers a superb alternative to static stretching by not only getting into your muscles to elongate muscle fibers and provide deep tendon stretch, but they also break-up adhesions (knots) and scar tissue, restore muscle balance, and provide a release of stress and tension. To better understand the benefits of foam rolling, it is helpful to understand how adhesions and scar tissue form.

Adhesions form when muscle fascia clump together. Our muscles are composed of many individual fibers working together. Muscle fibers are grouped together with a layer of tissue called fascia. Fascia will often clump together when muscles are injured, overused, or underused causing pain, soreness, and reduced flexibility. Scar tissue forms to repair a damaged muscle fiber. When a muscle fiber is damaged, our bodies work quickly to heal the injury by laying down scar tissue to essentially glue the ends together. This “glue” is not as flexible as the original muscle fiber. Both adhesions and scar tissue are readily targeted with the use of foam rolling by sending increased blood flow to the area. This increased circulation allows for increased flexibility, movement, and overall joint range of motion. Daily use of foam rollers uses these same ideas to keep tissues loose and flexible thereby decreasing risk of injury.

Foam rollers are affordable, fun to use, and can target muscles throughout the body. Depending on preference, frequency of use, and experience level, there are all sorts of foam rollers with different lengths, widths, firmness, and color.


  • White: softest, great for beginners as it can be painful at first
  • Blue and green: medium firmness
  • Black and purple: firmest rollers


  • Can be self-directed
  • Start with shorter time frames close to 30 seconds and progressing up to 2-3 minutes per muscle group


  • Anytime throughout the day
  • 2-3 hours before or immediately before a workout to lengthen muscles and decrease risk of injury as part of a dynamic stretch
  • After a workout as long as no injuries occur during workout as foam rolling can potentially increase the inflammatory response of an injured tissue

Knots and tight muscles

  • Can be painful at first, typically feel best with a softer roller
  • Discomfort will progress to a massage-like feeling and allow for a potential increase in firmness
  • When targeting specific knot or tight spot, gently remain on this site until noting a release
  • Remember to breathe throughout

At Specialized Physical Therapy we frequently recommend, and include foam rolling as part of our individualized treatment approach especially when treating ITB syndrome, peroneal 2014-02-02_115515tendonitis, decreased spinal motion, and generalized decreased lower extremity flexibility.