By Kristy Cushing
Physical Therapist, NMC

It’s back to school time and that means back to school shopping!  Before your child picks the coolest backpack beware that heavy backpack loads can increase your child’s chance of back pain.  Backpacks are used on a daily basis and it’s important we pay attention to how our children are using their backpack.

Some things to consider when choosing a backpack:

  • Appropriate for your child’s size, and lightweight when empty.
  • Two wide, well-padded shoulder straps.
  • Available waist strap,
  • Padded back that can provide cushioning.
  • Multiple compartments are preferred, allowing for even distribution of the contents.

Once you’ve set your child up for success with the proper backpack it’s important you also help teach your child tips about properly packing their backpack:

  • Avoid carrying a backpack weighing more than 15-20 percent of the child’s body weight.
  • Place heavier items lower in the bag so they are closer to the child’s center of gravity.
  • Encourage weight be evenly distributed by using all compartments.
  • Leave unnecessary items at home or school, minimizing what really needs to be carried daily.
  • Clean it out regularly. Things tend to stay in backpacks that aren’t necessary, increasing the load.

Now that we have the best features outlined and how to pack it, it’s important to teach your child how to carry and lift the backpack.

  • Always use the two shoulder straps to keep weight evenly distributed. Never use only one strap.
  • Rest the backpack in the normal curvature of their back. Never let it be loose or swinging, and adjust straps to be fitted to your child.
  • Lift with knees and not the back when picking up the backpack. Engage the core by drawing their belly button in toward the spine offering more stabilization and support to the spine.
  • Keep the backpack higher than the hipbones and close to your child’s center of gravity. This will allow your child to stand tall vs bending forward while walking.
  • If there is a known back problem discuss rolling backpacks with your child’s teacher, as this will prevent additional stress on the back.

Prevention is key. Attention to the features, packing, carrying and lifting of a backpack can be crucial in setting your child up for success.