Backpack Safety: How To Choose, Wear & Pack Smart

With back-to-school season in full swing, I thought it would be a good idea to remind students and parents about proper ways to wear a backpack in order to reduce injury. In any given day, children and adolescents carry textbooks, laptops, binders, and school lunches; and the weight can add up. Overly heavy backpacks can cause a lot of problems for children and teens, including poor posture, back, neck, and shoulder pain. Children and adults alike start experiencing these symptoms at an alarming rate this time of year. According to Michael Holmes, Canada Research Chair in Neuromuscular Mechanics and Ergonomics, “If a backpack has a reasonable amount of weight in it and fits correctly, children are not wearing it long enough for long-term damage to occur”. Meaning, there are ways we can be proactive! Let’s dive in, shall we?

There are some signs to watch out for that may indicate your child is wearing their pack incorrectly. These include:

  • headaches at the base of their skull
  • neck pain or pain between their shoulder blades
  • red marks on their shoulders
  • shoulders rolled forward
  • stomach sticking out while carrying it
  • bending at the waist to support the weight of it
  • numbness in their arms or hands

Here are some back saving tips parents should keep in mind when it comes to choosing a back to school back pack for their child. Keep in mind, this advice can apply to adults too!

Pack Smart

Help your child decide on the essentials for school. Check regularly for unnecessary items. If it is not necessary, then they should leave it at home to help lighten the load. For older students, try stopping at your locker more often. Often times, you may see children carrying up to a quarter of their body weight. However, the Canadian Chiropractic Association recommends Elementary students should not exceed 10% of their body weight, whereas Junior and Senior high students should not exceed 15% of their body weight. Organizing the backpack using all of its compartments can help spread out the load. It is suggested to place heavy items closest to the back, thus reducing the moment arm (for all of you physics nerds out there) or downward pull on your child’s back. In contrast to this, odd shaped items should be placed outside to prevent poking into your child’s back. If you notice your child struggling to put on or take off their book bag, have them remove some of the books or lunch and have them carry those items in their hand. This will ease the load on their back.

Choosing The Best Backpack

Here are things you should look for in a backpack:

  • Ergonomic, light weight design. For example choose material such as canvas or vinyl instead of leather.
  • The correct size: a bag which is the same length as your child’s torso; sits no higher than the top of their shoulders and no lower than the top of their hip bones.
  • Wide (at least 2 inches) adjustable straps with padding that do not cut into the arms or armpits
  • Chest belt
  • Waist belt to help transfer some of the weight into the hips and torso
  • A padded back with many compartments to evenly distribute the weight
  • Reflective material in case they will be doing some walking at night

Correct Wear

Help your child avoid injury by wearing their backpack correctly by applying these tips:

  • Somehow convince them that wearing both shoulder straps is “cool”. Lugging the backpack around with one strap can cause a disproportionate shift of weight to one side, leading to neck, muscle spasms, as well as low-back pain.
  • Tighten the straps so that the pack is close to the body.
  • The straps should hold the backpack 2 inches above the waist line.
  • Do not bend over at the waist when wearing or lifting a heavy backpack. Use your knees! Alternatively, you can try placing the back on a flat surface at waist height instead of lifting from the floor.
  • Test it out, can your child walk normally while wearing the backpack, or are they slouching or leaning forward?

In conclusion, while most kids opt for backpacks to express their own personal style, it is important as parents and caregivers to make sure that their backpack is not causing them pain or back problems throughout the school year and into adulthood. By purchasing the right backpack and wearing it correctly, you can minimize discomfort and poor posture habits. However, if you or your child have pre-existing back, shoulder, or neck pain, you shouldn’t hesitate to seek out a chiropractic consult, or stop in for a treatment if you haven’t been in for a while. Don’t be shy if you’d like one of our chiropractors to do a backpack assessment with your child or adolescent. Doctors of chiropractic are licensed and trained to diagnose and treat patients of all ages and will use a gentler type of treatment for children. Chances are, we will be able to help!

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