It’s back to school time—and that also means backpack safety time. As you’re collecting the last items on your child’s school supply list, make sure your child has a safe, appropriately sized backpack.
Unfortunately, overloaded backpacks can be a source of back pain for many children and teens. Packs that are too heavy can strain muscles, put unnatural weight on the spine, and cause children to slouch forward in order to keep their balance—poor posture which puts the spine in a position where it’s susceptible to more injury.
Help your children feel their best and encourage good spine health at an early age by following these backpack safety guidelines.
1-2-3’s of Backpack Safety
1. Choose the right pack:
- Two straps are better than one. Distributing the weight evenly across the back is far better than concentrating the full weight to one shoulder, as with a messenger bag.
- Look for broad straps, padded if possible. Thin straps don’t distribute weight as evenly and can put acute pressure on muscles and nerves.
- Choose lightweight material. The pack itself shouldn’t be adding a lot of weight to your child’s load.
- Make sure the backpack is the right fit for your child. The backpack should not be wider than your child’s shoulders and should not extend lower than your child’s hips.
2. Maintain the right load:
- Keep it light. The backpack should not exceed 10% to 15% of your child’s weight. That means if your child weighs 80 pounds, a 15-pound backpack is too much. Use a bathroom scale to weigh the bag to get an accurate measurement—just because it doesn’t feel too heavy to you doesn’t mean it’s not too heavy for your child! Also be aware of some common-sense cues: if your child is struggling to get the pack on, or if they have to lean forward in order to avoid toppling backwards, the pack is overloaded.
- Load it right. Keep heavier items closer to your child’s back, where the weight is better supported. After that, make sure the weight is evenly distributed, not lopsided to the left or right.
- Carry only what’s necessary. Don’t let your child’s backpack become a “black hole” where broken pencils, unread library books, used Tupperware and old worksheets collect. Encourage your child to clean out his or her bag regularly.
- Minimize if you can. Help your child choose lighter school supplies to help manage the weight. For example, if your child has to take notes for multiple classes, opt for smaller notebooks for each class instead of one monster-sized notebook or binder for everything. If your child has a locker or other storage area at school, encourage him or her to drop off books there throughout the day instead of carrying the full days’ worth of books to every class.
3. Wear it the right way:
- Use both straps. Spread weight over both shoulders to avoid pulling the body to one side. Even the best backpack can still cause pain if all the pressure is confined to one shoulder!
- Don’t let it droop. Adjust straps so that the bottom of the pack rests around the area of the child’s waist. Any lower and you’ll transfer the weight to the lower back and put more strain on the shoulders.
- Maintain good posture. Help your child recognize and correct poor backpack posture. The temptation will be to roll the shoulders and thrust the head and neck forward, but if the backpack is the correct weight this shouldn’t be necessary. Encourage your child to envision being suspended by a string that connects to the top of their head, so that they can stand up straight and relaxed.
Don’t let an overloaded backpack saddle your child with back pain! Follow these backpack safety guidelines to keep your child active and pain-free.
Have a great school year!