I know, I know... it's just midsummer and it feels like the kids just started summer vacation! But kids will be back in school before you know it, which means back to school shopping. As you scan the school supply list, chances are that the kids will need a backpack.
While most kids opt for a backpack to express their own personal style, it's important as parents and caregivers, to make sure that their backpack is not causing them pain or back problems throughout the year and into adulthood.
Overly heavy backpacks can cause a lot of problems for children and teens, including back, neck and shoulder pain, poor posture and other . Often times you will see kids carrying up to a quarter of their body weight but according to the American Chiropractic Association they should never carry more than 5-10% of their total body weight.
There are several things we can do to help avoid injury.
Choosing the Best Backpack:
When shopping for your child's new backpack, look for:
Ergonomic, light-weight design
The correct size: never wider or longer than your child's torso and never hanging more than 4 inches below the waist
Wide, Padded shoulder straps, and padded back
Hip and chest belts to help transfer some of the weight to the hips and torso
Multiple compartments to better distribute the weight
Compression straps on the sides or bottom to stabilize the contents
Other alternative backpacks, including those on wheels, have become more popular but they are still not strongly endorsed by the ACA and are banned at many schools and here's why:
"Rolling backpacks should be used 'cautiously and on a limited basis by only those students who are not physically able to carry a backpack," the ACA website reads. The reason? They clutter school corridors, replacing a potential back injury hazard with a tripping hazard." 1
At times, it can look and feel like your child is carrying around 40 lbs. of bricks in their backpack. Help your child decide on the essentials for school. If it's not necessary then they should leave it at home to help lighten the load. Backpacks should never weigh more than 5-10% of their total body weight. Organizing the backpack using all of its compartments can help spread out the load. Pack heavier items closest to the center of the back. For older students, try stopping at their locker more often, if possible. Do not try to carry all of the books needed for the day.
It's important to encourage your child or teen to tell you about any numbness, tingling, or discomfort they may be experiencing. This may indicate poor backpack fit or or too much weight. If you notice your child struggling to put on or take off their book bag, have them remove some of the books and have them carry them in their arms to help ease the load on their back.
Help your child avoid injury by wearing their backpack correctly or trying these tips:
Urge your child to use both shoulder straps. Slinging a backpack over one shoulder can strain muscles. Wearing a backpack on one shoulder may increase curvature of the spine.
Tighten the straps so that the pack is close to the body. The straps should hold the pack two inches above the waist.
Bend using both knees, when you bend down. Do not bend over at the waist when wearing or lifting a heavy backpack.
If the backpack is still too heavy, talk to your child's teacher. Ask if your child could leave the heaviest books at school, and bring home only lighter hand-out materials, photo copies of they corresponding pages or workbooks. Team up with parents to encourage changes and find alternate solutions.
It's always a good idea to talk to your child's pediatrician for further ideas and recommendations and to make sure they are on the same page regarding your backpack concerns.
1. National Safety Council:
2. American Chiropractic Association:
3. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons