As children around the world head back to school this autumn, most are sporting new backpacks. For the younger ones, they are mostly empty, slightly heavier in the morning as they include full lunch boxes, but certainly not loaded down with heavy books. For the older kids, notebooks, homework, and textbooks quickly add up to a heavy load that is transported back and forth, sometimes while walking up to a mile each way.
Because children’s bodies are still growing and changing, the weight of their backpacks plays a critical role in their health. But the heavy load they carry at age of 8 and upwards could impact their spinal health for the rest of their life.
To help you make the best decision for your children during these school years, I’ve put together a few things for you to think about and implement in order to protect your children’s backs.
3 Tips for Preventing Back Pain from Your Child’s Backpack
Tip #1: Limit the Weight
Many parents understand this scenario; your child arrives home from school, and after a quick peek in their backpack, their parent finds 12 pencils, three books, 52 half-crumpled papers, a sweatshirt from two months ago, and much more. When asked, they’ll say there’s nothing in there. One way to limit the weight of their backpack is to go through it frequently and encourage them only to take what is necessary. Backpacks that are too heavy can affect the child’s posture, causing them to lean forward and this can lead to spinal compression, neck, shoulder, and back pain.
Bonus Tip: I recommend backpacks weight no more than 10 to 15 percent of the child’s weight. Smaller children should stick to the 10%, and teenagers could handle closer to the 15% if needed.
Tip #2: Encourage Proper Wearing
Most backpacks come with two shoulder straps, and both of them should be used at all times. Kids think it’s cool to wear it on one shoulder, or they’ve seen someone else do it, but using both of the shoulder straps, the risk of damage to the spine decreases greatly. Often, you’ll see a child leaning to one side when using just one shoulder strap, as they are subconsciously trying to offset the weight. This usually results in lower back pain and shoulder strain.
Bonus Tip: The shoulder straps are important! They should have some padding and be thick enough to distribute the weight evenly and should also be tightened, so the backpack doesn’t hang too low on the back.
Tip #3: Encourage Desk & Locker Use
Another common thing we see in the middle school age when kids first start changing classes, is that kids try to carry all their books from class to class to avoid being late. Take a few minutes to sit down and explain to your children the importance of only carrying the essentials and maybe even help them map a route through the halls that allows them just enough extra time, that they feel secure about stopping at their locker.
Tips for Backpack Shopping
As you are shopping for backpacks for this year or determining if the one from last year can be reused, use this quick checklist:
* Shop for back health, not fashion
* Make sure it’s lightweight.
* Check for two, wide, padded shoulder straps.
* Opt for one with a padded back, to prevent any poking through of sharp objects.
* Choose one with multiple pockets and compartments to help distribute weight.
If you’re concerned about the weight of the backpack your child is carrying around give my office a call today, and we’ll get them checked out and ready to start the school year off on the right foot.