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Backpacks and Your Kids

Kids need to be able to carry their school books around, and backpacks are the most practical way to do that. On the other hand, backpacks have been known to cause back, neck, and shoulder pain, as well as posture problems. What can you do to lessen your child’s chances of back pain?

When choosing a backpack for your child, ask yourself the following questions.

Does the bag have two straps, and are the straps wide enough?

Although cross-body or messenger-style bags are popular, they don’t allow for an even distribution of weight. This puts excessive pressure on one shoulder, which can lead to neck and shoulder pain. A bag with two straps allows for an even distribution of weight.

Also, make sure the straps aren’t too narrow. Narrow straps dig into the shoulders, which can be quite painful and can also cause circulation problems. Look for a bag with wider, padded shoulder straps. As your children grow, so do the size of their school books. As their loads get heavier, consider a bag with a waist strap, which can help to ensure that the weight is distributed more evenly, along with the two shoulder straps.

How heavy is the backpack?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that backpacks should not exceed 10 to 20 percent of the child’s body weight. Although it may not be entirely accurate, you can use your bathroom scale to help gauge whether the backpack is too heavy. When purchasing a backpack, consider how heavy it is. If a backpack is already on the heavy side with nothing in it, it will just put extra strain on the back once your child puts his or her books in it. Opt for something lightweight if possible. If even a lightweight backpack is too heavy when holding all of the necessary items, you might want to get a backpack with wheels.

Does the backpack fit properly, and are the straps tight enough?

Ideally, the bottom of the backpack should be two inches above the waist. The straps should be tight enough that the backpack is close to the body, but not so tight that they pull the shoulders back. Bring your child with you so that he or she can try out the backpack in the store. This will ensure the best possible fit. Avoid purchasing a backpack online if possible, since you won’t have any way of knowing if the backpack is the right fit.

Is it packed correctly?

The weight should be evenly distributed in your child’s backpack. The heaviest items should be closest to your child’s back, and items should be packed snugly enough that they aren’t sliding around inside the bag. Distribute smaller items evenly among the bag’s smaller compartments. Try to make sure your child isn’t carrying any unnecessary items. If the backpack is too heavy or overpacked, he or she can always carry a couple of books in their arms to take some of the strain off the back.

Backpacks that are too heavy or improperly fit can strain the shoulders, neck, and back, causing pain, disc compression, and posture problems. Encourage your children to let you know if their backpacks are hurting them so that you can make the proper adjustments. A few small changes could make a big difference in your child’s comfort level.

To read more about ways to take care of your children’s health, please see my previous article “Can Year-Round Sports Affect Your Child?