One fact that experts agree on is that carrying a heavy backpack can lead to poor posture and back pain. When it comes to establishing a guideline for how to prevent backpack-related pain, there is more variation in how much weight is too much and which details matter.
Some of the best tips to follow are common sense advice. Any time a child or teen experiences discomfort or back pain, there’s a problem.
The best approach is to take steps to prevent back pain from occurring in the first place. Consider the following when getting ready for the school year.
Choosing the Right Backpack
- Lightweight: Opt for a backpack made of a lightweight material such as canvas or nylon. Avoid heavy materials like leather.
- Quality Straps: Choose shoulder straps that are at least two inches wide, padded, contoured, and adjustable.
- Lots of Storage Space: Look for a backpack with individualized compartments. This allows you to distribute the weight evenly instead of letting everything go to the bottom where it hits their lower back.
- Laptop Compartment: If your child will carry a laptop or other electronics to school, choose a bag with a separate compartment for that purpose.
- Padded Layers: A bag with a padded layer that rests against your skin helps absorb some of the pressure. Some newer models also have an inflatable pad.
- Rolling Wheels: Some kids prefer backpacks with wheels that let them pull them instead of carrying them on their back. These bags might be too much for younger kids to handle. Consider whether your child will have to lift the bag (such as getting on and off the bus) and make it even more problematic.
- Avoid One Strap/Shoulder Bags: Avoid shoulder or messenger style bags that put all the weight and pressure on one shoulder. Wearing a backpack in this way can lead to the same types of damage as women get from carrying a shoulder bag.
- Buy Appropriate Size: Buy a backpack that is appropriate for the child’s age. A bag that is too small or too large will put pressure where it shouldn’t be.
The Right Way to Pack a Backpack
You probably won’t be the one packing your child’s backpack every day, so you need to show them the right way to do it too. Stress the importance of taking the time to pack it correctly to protect their back. Explain that even if the bag doesn’t cause any pain now, it can cause damage and pain down the road.
- Heavy Items First: Pack the heaviest items first so that they are lower in the bag and rest closer to the body.
- Organize Compartments: Put different items into the various components designed for them. Distribute the items evenly throughout for an even weight distribution. Larger items should fit snugly enough in the compartments so that they don’t shift during movement.
- Pack Sharp Items Away from Back: Pack sharp, bulky items where they can’t contact the back.
How to Wear a Backpack Safely
Wearing the backpack correctly will help protect your child from back pain. They should always take the time to put the backpack on correctly. Wearing the backpack slung over one shoulder can lead to shoulder and back injuries.
Adjust your child’s backpack so that it fits their body snugly while holding the bottom of the backpack two inches above their waist. At the same time, the top of the backpack should be just below the base of their skull.
Tighten the shoulder straps to hold it in this position. Don’t let kids wear the backpack too low near the buttocks. This puts pressure on the lower back; the most vulnerable area of the spine for damage and back pain.
The child should practice good posture while wearing a backpack. If they slump forward while wearing it, it’s probably too heavy or improperly fitted.
Don’t Stop There
Monitor your child’s backpack use to make sure they follow these guidelines daily. If they complain of pain or discomfort, reduce the amount of weight they carry. If they must carry too many books in their backpack, look for ways to reduce their load.
For instance, finishing all the work in some classes and only bringing home books for the homework they couldn’t finish. Why carry more when you don’t have to?
Sometimes it’s possible to keep more books in the locker and go back and forth instead of carrying everything at once. Some parents even go so far as to purchase extra books to leave at home, so students don’t have to carry all of them back and forth to school. Another option is to make copies of the chapters they need in heavier books.
While heavy backpacks are a common source of back pain in children, there are other potential causes. If lightening your child’s load doesn’t help, have their pain assessed for other potential causes.
Tips for Parents to Help Protect Children’s Backs
Take an active role in helping your child pick out the right backpack for their needs. Ask them if they have any aches or pains in their neck, shoulders, or back. Address any issues with the teachers and the principle of the school. You can also bring up the issue of heavy backpacks at PTO meetings and discuss solutions that will help all students.
It’s never too early to take an active role in protecting your child’s back. If your child is experiencing any aches and pains in the neck, shoulders, or back, contact us today.