It’s almost time to go back to school, which for some of us means buying a new backpack. It seems like backpacks get bigger and bigger—and more weighed down with books and other things—every year. While it may be cute to see elementary schoolers toddling around with a bag that’s as big as they are, the dangers to causing lasting back damage from an ill-fitting or too heavy backpack are real. It’s the same for pre-teens and teens, and even college students.

Children’s and young adults’ bodies are still growing and forming, and it’s essential to do everything we can to protect them. Promoting positive back care today can help to avoid a lifetime of back pain in the future.

To that end, here are a few tips on avoiding injuries from backpacks that everyone should consider when heading back to school.

Go for fit first, fashion second

There are few things more dangerous to a child’s back than a backpack that doesn’t fit them properly. It’s no surprise, though, that when we take our children to the store to buy a new backpack that they’re drawn to whatever the “in” fashion is. Luckily, many modern backpacks have many ergonomic features designed to lessen the stress on children’s backs. Look for bags that:

  • Have padding on the shoulder straps,
  • Have extra padding where the bag rests on the child’s back
  • Are made of lightweight material
  • Include waist or chest straps

If the child needs to take a laptop to school, try to find a backpack that is specifically designed for carrying them, as they often have additional pockets and features that make carrying heavier items easy.

Adjust straps to a comfortable fit

It’s common for children to prefer to wear their backpack in ways that are fashionable, and not in ways that promote a healthy back. While we always recommend using the additional waist or chest straps, children will sometimes avoid using them, afraid to look “uncool” if they do. Because parents can’t always be there to ensure their children are doing the right thing, they can at least ensure that the shoulder straps are adjusted properly. The backpack straps should be tight enough so that the bottom of the back rests about two inches above the child’s waist. The backpack should fit snugly, but not so tightly that it’s uncomfortable or putting too much stress on the child’s shoulders.

Show your child how to wear and pack the bag

It’s also common for kids to simply throw things into their bags in a haphazard way. Not every child is a master organizer. However, when someone simply stuff as much as they can in a bag in any way possible, they risk having the weight of items distributed unevenly. This can cause the wearer to carry the backpack in an awkward position, or put undue stress on the back or shoulders.

It’s best to pack larger, heavier things first so that they are carried closer to the child’s waist. Adjusting the shoulder straps properly will ensure weight is evenly distributed from the left to right side of the body, and most of the weight should be closer to the waist than the shoulders. Additionally, if the pack is so heavy that it causes the child to bend too far forward when carrying it, then it’s advisable to remove items from the backpack so that that wearer can walk normally.

If you or your child are experiencing pain due to wearing a backpack, we can help.

Pain and Spine Specialists treats many conditions and injuries of the back, neck, and spine by taking a whole-person approach to care. Our focus is getting you back on your feet in good health. In Maryland call 301.703.8767, or call 724.603.3560 in Pennsylvania to make an appointment.

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