It is often hard to find the perfect backpack for a child, as children have personal preferences based on what they like and what their friends have. From our perspective as a parent, it is more important to find a backpack that is durable, comfortable, doesn’t cost a fortune, and doesn’t place undue stress on our kids. Parents who are willing to look long enough should eventually be able to find a backpack that doesn’t cause back pain and with input from their child, makes them the proud new owner of the coolest backpack in school.
In this day and age, more attention has been focused on the problems that backpacks cause, as over half of youths experience low back pain at the end of their teen years. While the blame shouldn’t rest entirely on improperly fitting backpacks, it certainly is a contributing factor. Truthfully, the improper use of backpacks have some long lasting results, so we advise parents to search for the best backpack for their child and teach them how to properly use it. From not using a properly fitting backpack to carrying a backpack that is excessively heavy, more and more children are complaining of back pain that often continues long into their adult years.
This problem has finally been brought out into the open, as lawmakers are pushing for legislation to lighten the load children carry in their backpacks. I remember carrying a backpack that seemingly weighed more than I did, with five different textbooks in it at all times. Every time I lifted my backpack up, it was a feat of strength that even a power lifter would be impressed by. Hopefully, this won’t be the case much longer, as children shouldn’t be expected to carry around an overly heavy backpack day in and day out.
A perfect backpack should never hang 4 inches below the waist so find the right size pack and adjust the shoulder straps accordingly. Ideally, look for wider shoulder straps, as they can better distribute the weight and reduce overall muscle strain. Even better, look for a backpack that has both a waist and chest strap, as this can make carrying it so much easier. Explain to your child how to properly use their backpack by encouraging them to always use both shoulder straps to evenly distribute the weight and avoid imbalances. Also, look for a backpack that has compression straps on the sides and bottom to evenly distribute the weight.
The shoulder straps and back should be padded. This padding should be made of high-quality foam that is comfortable, yet durable. Ideally, avoid inexpensive options, as they aren’t likely to make it through the school year. Adequately padded shoulder straps also prevent pinched nerves throughout the shoulders and neck. Also, look for backpacks that have a lower lumbar padding, so the contents of the backpack don’t push directly on the back.
When shopping for a perfect backpack, it is best to try on multiple options, looking for one that is the just the right size. A perfect backpack should not be longer or wider than the child’s torso. Often, parents simply look for the biggest backpack because a child can carry more with it. However, this increases the potential amount of weight that can be lugged around everywhere, increasing the probability of injury.
Instead of buying a backpack with one big compartment, a backpack that has multiple different compartments enables for better weight distribution overall.
Many parents search for a backpack on wheels, however, this is often not a better option. While getting around on smooth surfaces is far easier, any time a child has to go up or down stairs or over rough terrain, they are required to lift up their backpack. Lifting the backpack in this fashion often puts them in a less than optimal position and can put undue stress on their back, neck, and shoulders.
Think about how many times your child lifts their backpack to put it on or take it off. If they aren’t lifting their backpack correctly, it could result in injury. Ideally, teach your child how to lift their backpack properly, by lifting with the legs, not the back.
Proper lifting and using a perfectly fitting backpack still aren’t going to counteract the negative effects of carrying an overly heavy backpack. This is why the American Chiropractic Association (ACA) recommends that a backpack weigh no more than 10% of a child’s weight, while Backpack Safety America recommends that a backpack doesn’t weigh more than 15% of a child’s body weight. In either case, the message is obvious, don’t carry around a heavy backpack. Another factor that parents should consider is proper weight distribution. Ideally, place the heaviest items close to the back of the backpack, so it rests directly on a child’s back and offers them the best leverage.
It is advised to carry a backpack as little as possible. Ideally, encourage your child to use their locker for heavy books and items that they aren’t currently using. This will reduce the overall load that they are continuously placing on their frame every time they put on their backpack and walk around.
Parents who take the time to search for the backpack that fits their child, while encouraging them to use it properly may be able to prevent injuries that could play a role in back pain. While choosing the right backpack may not seem like a pressing issue, plenty of studies are showing us that carrying a heavy backpack or using a backpack that doesn’t fit a child properly can lead to chronic back problems that could easily be prevented.
Dr. Renn frequently sees children with back pain and can teach children how to properly wear and lift a backpack. If you are unsure about your child’s backpack or would like your child to get a spinal checkup, you can request an appointment by calling us at 773.878.7330.
Dr. DeFabio is a highly regarded chiropractor in Chicago who focuses on helping his patients achieve optimal health and wellness. He takes a holistic approach to care, treating symptoms and addressing underlying issues to promote long-term healing. Dr. DeFabio is passionate about empowering his patients to take control of their health and live their best lives. You can find him surfing, skateboarding, and volunteering at the Lakeview Food Pantry when he’s not in the office.