As summer winds down it’s time to start thinking about back to school. That includes, lunches, books, and backpacks! It’s important to make sure backpacks fit properly from an early age. If backpacks are worn incorrectly over long periods of time, not only can they cause back, shoulder, or neck pain, they can result in changes in posture and gait.1
Luckily, there are a few steps you can take to make sure your children are wearing their backpacks right:
- Encourage light packing:
The best way to start is by enforcing good habits. Start by laying out all the items you think you might need to pack. Decide with your child what’s essential, and what can be eliminated. Only pack what you need.
- Load it evenly: Backpacks are made to distribute weight evenly. Make sure the heaviest items are positioned closest to the centre of the back. It stabilizes their centre of gravity and helps prevent slouching, tilting to one side, or falling over.
- Make sure it’s the right weight: Ideally, a backpack should be no more than 10-15% of the wearer’s body weight.2 This is especially important to consider with smaller children.
- Lift with your legs: As with lifting any sort of weighted object, it’s best to lift with your legs. Teach your child to place their backpack on the ground behind them, bend at the knees, put their arms loosely through the straps with their hands holding on, and to stand up with the backpack, lifting with their legs.
- Make sure the straps are tightened: For proper support, the backpack should fit securely on both shoulders and should rest on the contour of the back. If it’s hanging over the buttocks, it’s too low. It might take a few tries to adjust it just right.
- Ask if they’re experiencing discomfort while wearing it: Even if the bag looks right, it might not feel right. Ask the child if the bag feels comfortable for them. If they say it isn’t, try to figure out what it is that feels out of place and see if it’s something you can adjust.
- Monitor their comfort: Don’t assume that when the bag has been fitted once it’ll be set for the whole school year. Maybe a strap has been pulled tighter or loosened, maybe it’s filled a bit too heavy on occasion, or maybe the objects in the bag on some days are weighted to one side instead of centred. By checking how the bag fits each day, you’re not only helping your child’s posture, you’re helping to form good habits for life.
- Wear both arm straps: Encourage your child to wear their backpack with both arm straps at all times. Carrying their bag over one shoulder or holding it over one arm in front of them promotes uneven posture, which, if it becomes a habit, can lead to problems down the line.
- Reduce backpack wearing time: If the child has access to cubbies, cubicles, or safe places to rest their bag when they aren’t walking around with it, encourage them to use them. This ensures they aren’t wearing their bag for longer than they have to.
Keeping these tips in mind are sure to make your packing easier and your bags a little lighter. Good habits start young!
For informed guidance on the prevention and management of pain or discomfort in the back, neck, or shoulders, talk to your family chiropractor.
1Mackenzie W, Sampath J, Kruse R, Sheir-Neiss G. Backpacks in Children. Clin Orth Relat Res. 2003;409:78-84.
2Adeyemi A, Rohani J, Abdul Rani M. Backpack-back pain complexity and the need for multifactorial safe weight recommendation. Appl Ergon. 2017;58:573-82.