10 things to know about choosing a backpack for your child

With summer drawing to a close, it’s back to school, back to work, and back to routine life for both children and parents alike. As we get back into this routine, it’s a good time to take a moment to make sure we’re starting back with good habits. Adults can use ergonomic office chairs and keyboard/mouse combinations for their work stations, but children also need proper ergonomic help with school to try prevent the everyday repetitive strains on their spinal columns.  Today we’re going to focus on backpacks and what parents should be looking for when buying backpacks for their kids.

First off, to be completely clear, the best kind of school bag is a properly used backpack because with a backpack, the weight of of the bag is evenly distributed and balanced over both shoulders and down through the spine. Single-strap courier bags or tote bags, or a backpack that the child only wears over one shoulder, cause the weight to be unbalanced and add extra strain to their spines.

We’ve all seen children carrying their packs slung over one shoulder with heavy books in very awkward positions, looking like the bag contains everything for school, play, and possibly even the family pet. Depending on your child’s perspective, it might not be the coolest thing to have an ergonomic backpack, or to wear it in the proper way. However, children are often not aware of the possible consequences of poor ergonomics, and a severe imbalance left unchanged for long enough could possibly cause enough of an imbalance in the spine to lead to a functional scoliosis.  It is therefore important for parents to help make these adjustments, and also to recognize when there is a problem with the backpack that can cause pain in the neck, back, or shoulders.

When bags become very heavy, children tend to lean forward in order to compensate for the shift in their center of gravity.  This can lead to rounding of the shoulders (classic postural problem), as well as placing increased pressure on the lumbar discs while increasing the lumbar spinal curvature.  A standard guideline, according to the American Chiropractic Association, is to never carry a load that is heavier than 10% of the child’s body weight.

Here are some recommendations for better backpack ergonomics:

  1. Padded back.  Find a backpack preferably with a padded back to protect the child’s back from sharp objects in the bag.
  2. Two padded straps, preferably wide.  This better distributes the weight of the bag and lessens the risk of nerve compression at the shoulders.
  3. Use a locker!  Children should only carry what’s needed for each class and make frequent stops to their lockers to switch out the necessary books. That can also mean taking out unnecessary things that add extra weight (video games, phone, and table, unless the electronics are being used in the class).
  4. Adjust the straps.  The backpack should not be hanging down at the level of the buttocks.  Tighten the straps so that the pack sits on the back.  To test this, fill the bag at home, put it on your child, and then tighten the straps until it rests about 5 cm above the buttocks.
  5. Extra straps/stabilizing frame.  Good ergonomic bags also include chest and waist straps with some sort of stabilizing frame.  If your child’s bag has these straps, use them!  This will help to direct the weight of what’s in the bag to go through the frame and sit on the child’s hips and pelvis, rather than hanging on their shoulders.
  6. Bag size.  Be sure to choose the right size of bag for your child…not too big or small.
  7. Lightweight material.  Choose materials that are lightweight, so as to not add extra weight to the backpack.  Leather is not a good choice.
  8. Back-up set.  When possible, have a second set of school instruments or books at home so children don’t have to carry extra things to and from school unnecessarily.
  9. Use their hands if you have to.  If there is something that your child can’t do without and the bag is already too heavy, it’s better for the child to carry the item in their hands rather than overfill the backpack.
  10. Go paperback/paperless.  When possible, opt for the paperback version of books instead of hardcover ones, or try to go paperless and put the notes on an electronic device.

We all were students once.  Some of us escaped the problems of accumulating tension and back pain, while others suffer into university and their adult lives. Maintaining proper ergonomics for yourself and teaching these good habits to your children, in addition to regular chiropractic care, is very important. Your chiropractor can help to keep your spine aligned and balanced, but we’re not around you everyday to remind you about ergonomics. You live with yourself and your kids everyday, so it’s important that you know what to do to help prevent back pain in yourself and your family.

Back pain in children is not to be taken lightly. You may have seen our recent facebook post about getting a free backpack check for your child.  If you’re interested, please contact us to make an appointment, and don’t forget to bring your child’s bag!

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