A lot has changed over the course of COVID-19 with remote, hybrid and in-person learning, but backpacks are here to stay. They’re customizable, come in all shapes, sizes and colors and are the ultimate in self-expression. But—when not worn properly, they can cause short- or long-term problems in kids’ muscles, joints and—well—back.
So what’s the right way to wear and carry a backpack? What else should you know so we can keep our learners in good physical health? Dr. Phil Mack, orthopedic surgeon with Connecticut Children’s, has answers.
First, understand the risks of not wearing or carrying backpacks correctly.
Backpacks can get heavy with the weight of textbooks, school supplies and other items students carry around throughout the school day. Keep in mind:
- If too heavy, the backpack can make your child bend forward or backward into an unnatural position to stand. This can cause shoulder, neck and back pain.
- If worn over one shoulder for comfort or looking “cool,” kids are unevenly distributing weight across their body. This is a no-no for posture and healthy joints.
- If the straps on the backpack are super narrow or tight, the shoulders, arms and hands can eventually hurt, tingle and become numb at times.
All of this is why pediatric orthopedic doctors and physical therapists recommend kids carry no more than 20% of their body weight in their backpacks.
Then, work with your child to choose the right backpack.
Here’s what you should aim for in the right kind of school backpack:
- A lightweight pack or a rolling backpack—make sure the actual backpack is on the lighter side.
- Two wide, padded shoulder straps—avoid narrow straps because they can dig into shoulders, which leads to pain and restricted circulation.
- Waist support—look for a backpack with a waist strap to help distribute weight evenly across your child’s body.
- Back padding—this helps the back feel comfortable and protects any sharp objects, like pens or book corners, from poking through.
Finally, set aside some time to organize and get familiar with the backpack.
This might sound silly, but spend an hour or so “studying” the different compartment of the backpack with your child. When filling it up with supplies, the weight should be evenly distributed. You may need to move some things around and have them try it on a few times.
And as always, be your child’s advocate.
Here’s what you can do as a parent to help ensure your child stays free of backpack discomfort or injuries:
- Check in with them regularly to see how their backpack feels.
- Encourage them to speak up—at all times!
- Ask a physical therapist about age-appropriate back strengthening exercises. You may need a referral from your pediatrician.
You might also like:
- Back to School Toolkit
- Answers to 5 Questions About Scoliosis
- Return to Play Safely: Athletes Need 6 Weeks to Get Back in Shape
- Overuse Injuries and Kids: A Sports Physical Therapist Answers Your Questions
Backpack Safety – HealthyChildren.org