How to choose the right backpack for your child?

Backpack Safety

As summer vacation comes to an end and the new school year begins, backpacks can become a heavy health risk to our kids. While alone they may not cause major problems, overloading and improper carrying of a backpack can lead to changes in posture resulting in headaches, neck, shoulder and lower back pain.

Here are warning signs to help you determine if the pack is too heavy, tips on how to watch for any developing problems and also tips for buying a new bag.

Warning Signs a Backpack is Too Heavy

  • Change in posture when wearing the backpack.
  • Arching of the shoulders, neck or back
  • Struggling when putting on or taking off the backpack.
  • Pain — especially when wearing the backpack in the neck, shoulders and lower back or headaches.
  • Tingling or numbness in arms and legs
  • Red marks and creases on the shoulders.

Choosing a Backpack 

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  • Size: The size of the backpack should match the size of the child.
  • Padding: Choose a backpack with wide, padded shoulder straps and a padded back. A padded back prevents sharp objects from digging into your child’s back and possibly altering his or her posture.
  • Two straps: A backpack with only one shoulder strap that goes around the neck does not distribute weight evenly. Always use both shoulder straps. Slinging a backpack over one shoulder can strain muscles.
  • Pack light: Backpacks should never weigh more than 10% of a child’s weight. For example, a child who weighs 100 pounds shouldn’t carry a backpack heavier than 10 pounds, and a 50-pound child shouldn’t carry more than 5 pounds. Organize the backpack to use all of its compartments. Pack heavier items closest to the center of the back. A heavier backpack will cause your child to bend forward in an attempt to support the weight on his or her back, rather than on the shoulders.
  • Adjustable straps: The shoulder straps should be adjustable so the backpack can be fitted to your child’s body. Straps that are too loose can cause the backpack to dangle uncomfortably and cause spinal misalignment and pain.
  • Waist strap: A waist strap takes even more weight off the shoulders.
  • Tighten straps: Tighten the straps until the pack is close to your child’s body. The backpack should never hang more than four inches below the waistline. A backpack that hangs too low increases the weight on the shoulders, causing your child to lean forward when walking.
  • Lightweight: Make sure that the backpack itself doesn’t add too much weight to the load.
  • Bending: Bend down by bending both knees. Teach your child to bend at the knees instead of the waist while wearing or picking up a heavy backpack.
  • Rolling backpacks: Consider a rolling backpack. This type of backpack may be a good choice for students who must tote a heavy load. Remember that rolling backpacks still must be carried up stairs, and they may be difficult to roll in snow.

If you have any questions on choosing the right backpack for your child, feel free to ask the Doctors at Leahy Chiropractic in Overland Park at your next visit.