Walk down the halls of any elementary, middle or high school and you are bound to be confronted with hundreds of shapes, styles and colors of backpacks. Since their inception in 1951, backpacks have become the norm for anyone wanting to carry a medium-heavy load across campus. These days the function of the basic backpack design is melded with fashion, and children (and adults) of all ages seek to wear backpacks in a way that not only carries their books from the locker to the classroom, but also adds a “cool” factor that other students will notice.
It is not uncommon to see students with backpacks slung low on their back or off one shoulder, but by wearing backpacks these ways your child may experience any number of painful symptoms. According to Education World, symptoms of an ill-fitting or improperly worn backpack can include:
– Muscle Spasms
– Shoulder pain
– Lower back pain
– Tingling hands
Additionally, the weight of carrying books, binders and notes low on the back or off of one shoulder can cause your child to lean forward or off to one side against the strain of the unbalanced weight. Because children are still developing both muscularly and skeletally, the ongoing “lean” can cause your child to develop a permanent posture designed by the pull of the backpack. As noted in a 2007 article by Supernanny.com, this adaptation can lead to problems with spinal alignment and muscle strain.
So what can you do to help your child avoid back pain while wearing a backpack? Here are a few tips to follow to get the maximum benefit of wearing a backpack without all the back pain:
Buy a High Quality Backpack
Avoid buying your child a backpack that is inexpensive even though you know it will be drug through mud, shoved in lockers and worn to within an inch of its life. A good quality backpack will not only help to keep your child free of back pain, but it will also be more likely to survive the school year without having to be replaced. Not sure what makes a good backpack? Look for these three things:
1. Wide padded straps to cushion the shoulders and distribute the weight evenly. Narrow straps will dig into yourchild and can cause uncomfortable rashes or painful bruises from straps digging into the shoulder.
2. Multiple compartments / dividers. The more your child is able to distribute the weight of books, class projects and supplies, the less items shift abruptly as your child walks and moves.
3. Purchase a backpack that is sized appropriately for your child’s frame. A wide, bulky backpack can easily become over-full and become too heavy for a child’s narrow back and shoulders.
Adjust the Backpack
While your child may insist that it’s fashionable to loosen the backpack straps until the pack is hanging low behind the waist, take the time to properly fit the backpack until it rests comfortably against the back. To make sure the backpack is fitted properly, check the following:
1. Place 2 to 3 books in the backpack and have your student take the backpack off and put it back on. Watch to make sure that the backpack isn’t so loose that your child can “shrug” it off, and that it isn’t so tight that the shoulders and back have to twist or struggle to put it on or take it off.
2. Make sure that when on, you are able to easily slip two fingers under the strap. Having the straps too tight can cut off circulation to the arms and hands.
3. If the backpack has a chest strap or hip belt attached, teach your child how to clip and unclip them while wearing the backpack and again make sure they are adjusted so that two fingers can easily fit under the strap/belt.
Depending on whom you ask, your child should never carry a load in their backpack exceeding 10-20% of their total weight. Since unfortunately hall monitors aren’t equipped with scales, it’s up to your child to determine how heavy is “too heavy” throughout his or her day. To set your student up for success, try this:
Step 1: Weigh your child on the bathroom scale wearing regular clothes.
Step 2: Determine the appropriate maximum weight for your child. A good guide is 10% of the child’s weight for grade school, 15% of the child’s weight for middle school and 20% of the child’s weight for high school.
Step 3: Fill the backpack with enough books to meet the maximum weight for your child’s age and build. Have your child pick up the backpack, put the backpack on and walk around the house for ten to fifteen minutes until he or she becomes comfortable with the way the backpack moves with that amount of weight. Have your child practice wearing the backpack at this weight several times so that when school begins they will be able to instinctively tell whether or not the backpack is too heavy.
Following these simple steps will help your child to navigate the school year without the discomfort of back pain caused by an ill-fitting backpack. One more thing to note is that although Messenger and Sling style bags have risen in popularity among adults, they should not be used for school-aged children. As with wearing a backpack over one shoulder, messenger and sling style bags both distribute weight unevenly. Stick with a good quality backpack and your child’s back will thank you for it!