As the last week of summer winds down and the return of another school year is upon us, you might find yourself out shopping for back to school supplies. One of the most important items to consider for your child’s health this fall is their backpack. Those long lists of school supplies often lead to a very heavy backpack! Backpacks come in every size, shape and color as kids express their own style, but it is important to consider more than just style when making the best decision with your child. Traditional two-strap backpacks are the best option compared with shoulder bags, messenger bags or purses because they are designed to distribute weight evenly through the back and abdominal muscles.
By following some simple guidelines when choosing and fitting your child’s backpack, you can be proactive in preventing unnecessary stresses, strains and injuries as they head back into the busy routine of school.
1. Your child’s backpack should not exceed 10-15% of their bodyweight (i.e. a 60 lb. child should carry a backpack no heavier than 6-9 lbs.). An overweight backpack carried over a period of time can have detrimental effects on various structures in the neck, shoulders and low back. This can cause pain, headaches or muscle stiffness that can have a negative effect on schoolwork, sporting activities and negatively impact your child’s overall posture and body positioning.
2. Choose a backpack with thick padded straps. A complex system of arteries and nerves runs through the neck and into the shoulders and arms; backpacks with thin or poorly padded straps can dig into these structures, increasing pressure and decreasing circulation to the arms and hands. This can contribute to tingling and numbing sensations running down the arms, or feelings of heaviness and pain.
3. Ensure straps are tightened so the backpack sits snugly against the back, just above the hips. If the straps are too loose and the backpack hangs down too low, excessive strain is placed on the low back, which is already subjected to long periods of sitting in class and is a contributor to poor spinal health.
4. Ensure straps are worn over both shoulders. This helps ensure an equal distribution of weight throughout the body. If only one strap is worn, the body will shift to try and compensate for the unequal weight, which can result in significant muscle imbalances throughout the trunk and spine. Left unchecked, these muscle imbalances can lead to increased postural misalignment and abnormal spinal curvatures, which could lead to further complications, especially as your child is growing and developing through adolescence.
5. Center the heaviest items closest to your child’s back. Organization matters! Make sure the heaviest items are packed as close as possible to the spine, and utilize other compartments for lighter and smaller items. This will help prevent unnecessary strain to the muscles and structures of the low back. Unequally distributed weight carried in a backpack, or simply carrying too much weight, can significantly affect a child’s balance as it shifts their center of gravity backwards. This may increase their risk of injury by affecting the way they walk and increases the possibility of losing their balance and falling.