Back to School - Backpack Safety

As parents prepare to send their children back to school during these uncertain times, there are a lot of health tips we must keep in mind. While health tips relating to COVID-19 are crucially important, we can not ignore the importance of more common health tips for your child’s return to school. One constant between previous school years and a school year in the midst of a pandemic is the presence of a backpack being worn by every child. While backpacks can be a passing thought to many parents, without the proper precautions, your child’s backpack could be doing some real harm to them physically.

In recent years, more children are beginning to suffer from back pain at an earlier age than in previous generations. While there are a number of reasons for this development, one of the leading contributors appears to the use of heavy backpacks. In fact, a recent study found that the average child carries a backpack that weighs approximately 22% of their body weight. To put that into perspective, that would be equivalent to a 175 pound man carrying a 39 pound load. That’s quite a load, especially if the child is wearing the backpack for extended periods of time such as at a bus stop or while walking home from school. Furthermore, that 22% proportion to the child’s body weight is over twice the American Chiropractic Association’s recommended weight for backpacks, which is 10% of the child’s body weight.

So, what are some steps you can take to help alleviate some of the negative results of an excessively heavy backpack? Here are our top five tips for parents and students regarding their backpacks:

1. Make sure your student’s backpack weights no more than 10-15% of their body weight

Backpacks heavier than 10-15% of the child’s body weight can cause the child to lean forward to support the weight of the backpack. This can lead to curvature or deformity to the spine, which can even be permanent in some cases. Reducing the weight of a child’s backpack is the simplest and most effective tip to reduce the strain your child’s body feels from carrying their backpack.

2. The backpack should not hang more than four inches below the waistline

If your child’s backpack hangs too low, it increases the weight on their shoulders which causes them to lean forward. As stated in the previous tip, this can lead to temporary or even permanent curvature in the spine. Adjusting the straps on the backpack to prevent it from hanging too low can be very effective at making the backpack easier for your child to carry.

3. Urge your child to wear both shoulder straps

We know this is sometimes not the cool way for kids to wear their backpacks but it is definitely the safest way. Wearing the backpack with only one shoulder strap can cause uneven weight distribution. This can lead to neck and other muscle spasms as well as low back pain. Simply wearing both shoulder straps can drastically reduce the strain on the child’s body.

4. Choose a backpack with wide, padded straps

The wider the straps, the more evenly the weight is distributed on the child’s shoulders which can prevent them from leaning forward to compensate. Also, straps with sufficient padding can make the weight carried by the child feel lighter which can prevent them from leaning forward while wearing their backpack. Both of these features can reduce strain on the child’s back, neck, and shoulders.

5. Choose a backpack with adjustable straps

The ability to adjust the straps on the backpack can help you make sure it is properly fitted for your child. In addition to reducing the perceived weight of the backpack, a properly fitted backpack is more comfortable to wear, which can lead to the child wearing the backpack properly, with both straps instead of just one.

As your child heads back to school, making sure their backpack is properly fitted and is being worn properly from the very beginning of the school year is extremely important. Allowing your student to get into bad habits with their backpack can lead to habits that are difficult to break as the school year winds on.

If you’re not sure if your child’s backpack is a good fit for them or are unsure if it’s too heavy for them, we encourage you to schedule a backpack screening at our Boardman or Hubbard offices. We’ll use a program called PostureScreen to perform posture assessments of your child with and without their backpack. This will allow us to measure the deviations in posture when wearing a backpack and make effective recommendations to improve the situation. Best of all the screening is free and only takes a few minutes to complete. Call our office or click here today to schedule your free screening!