It’s almost that time again. If your child’s back to school shopping list includes a new backpack, make sure it fits correctly. A poor fitting pack can be a pain in the neck (or back).
- Fit: Make sure that it is the right size. The backpack should be centered on the torso and should not hang below the low back. A smaller child will need a smaller backpack.
- Straps: Backpacks allow you to distribute the weight between both shoulders. A one-strap pack or messenger bag often forces the carrier to lean or shrug to avoid slipping of the strap, which can lead to pain. Shoulder straps should be wide, comfortable and padded. Make sure they use both straps; straps should be snug enough to keep it in place, but loose enough to get the backpack on and off easily.
- Load: Keep the heaviest objects (e.g. textbooks) in the pockets closest to the back, rather than in the outer pockets. This helps to keep the load closer to your child’s center of gravity and makes the load easier to carry. Compression straps along the side can also help stabilize the contents.
- Weight: Try to keep the weight of the backpack to 15% of the child’s body weight or less. A study by Goodgold et al. found that 55% of students carry a backpack that weighs more than the recommended 15% of their body weight. Have your child clean out the backpack on a weekly basis and make sure they are only carrying the supplies they need for that day. An extra book or two adds up quickly, especially if the child needs to walk to and from home or the bus stop.
- Extra Credit: Use the chest and waist straps to help offload the shoulders and back.
Keep your kids healthy! If your child is complaining of back to school pain or headaches, it could be related to prolonged sitting at school or while doing homework, poor posture or their backpack. One of our physical therapists can help your son or daughter learn strategies to stretch, strengthen and adjust their posture to make back to school as pain free as possible.
Source: Goodgold S., Corcoran M., Gamache D., Gillis J., Guerin J., Coyle J. Q. Backpack use in children. Pediatric Physical Therapy. 2002;14(3):122–131. doi: 10.1097/00001577-200214030-00002.