BEING loaded down with textbooks, gym equipment and school supplies can make backpacks heavy and hard to wear. If they’re not worn properly, backpacks may cause back, neck and shoulder pain in children and teens. While backpacks have not been shown to cause scoliosis or long-term problems, it’s never too early to start good habits that can decrease back strain and pain.
To identify the perfect backpack, make sure it is the right size. Bigger is not necessarily better. The more room there is in a backpack, the more your child will carry – and the heavier the backpack will become.
Make sure to choose the right backpack that fits your child and their needs the best. The bag you choose should be proportional to your child’s height.
The backpack should have two broad, padded shoulder straps. Having adjustable straps that are broad and distribute weight evenly between both shoulders is important. More padding does not translate to less pain. Both straps should stay even in length. Non padded straps can be uncomfortable and dig into your child’s shoulders.
A backpack with a padded back can provide increased comfort when the backpack is appropriately fitted and close to their back. It also protects them from being poked by sharp objects or edges (pencils, rulers and notebooks) inside the pack.
Make sure the backpack includes a waist belt or chest strap, which help redistribute the weight of the backpack more evenly across the body.
Also, look for backpacks with compartments. These can help evenly distribute the weight of contents throughout the backpack.
Ask for input
Include your child in the decision-making process and help them make a smart purchase. This will allow them to tote their packs comfortably all year long and you won’t have to go searching for a replacement.
To safely pack a school backpack, make sure that most of its weight rests in the curve of your child’s lower back. Pack the heaviest items like textbooks and computers closest to the body and place other items equally on the right and left sides. Pack items in the different compartments. This helps distribute heavy loads evenly.
Backpacks shouldn’t weigh more than 15% of your child’s body weight. This means a child who weighs 45kg shouldn’t have a backpack that weighs more than 6.8kg.
If your child needs to lean forward to support the backpack’s weight, it’s too heavy. Consider using a backpack with handles or a rolling backpack if your school allows it.
To help keep lighten the load, encourage your child to clean the backpack weekly and take out unneeded items. Your child can also store items in a locker when possible, and take only what’s needed to school.
It’s also important to teach your child how to pick up and wear a backpack the right way. When picking up their backpack, your child should bend their knees to avoid back strain. Then, the key is wearing the backpack so it puts weight on the strongest muscles in the body: the back and abdominal muscles.
Use both shoulder straps. Slinging a backpack over one shoulder can strain muscles. Adjust the shoulder straps so the backpack rests in the middle of your child’s back. The backpack should fit close to your child’s body.
Secure the waist or chest strap; this helps keep the backpack close to your child’s body and distribute the weight more evenly.
Make sure the bottom of the backpack rests in the curve of the lower back. The backpack should go from waist level up to about 2.5cm to 5cm below the shoulders. A backpack should never sit more than 10cm below the waistline (bellybutton).
There may be times where your child or teen shouldn’t wear a backpack, such as after surgery or an injury. Consider requesting a second set of books to have at home, if possible, and time to go back and forth to a locker so only items for one class at a time need to be carried.
Reinforcing healthy back habits for your child can help reduce the risk of back pain. Do not ignore back pain in a child or teenager that occurs at times other than wearing a backpack. Ask your paediatrician for advice. – American Academy of Pediatrics/Tribune News Service/Dr Saji Azerf
Dr Saji Azerf is a member of the AAP Section of Orthopedics. He is a non-operative paediatric orthopaedist in the US.