It is almost back to school time! You must have a lot of things on your plate between enjoying the last few glory days of the summer and also preparing for the start of a new school year. So we have made it easy for you with a quick guide of things to consider when purchasing a backpack.

Although the stores are stocked with bookbags with cool colors, designs, and beloved cartoon characters, try to avoid only considering the style and appearance when purchasing a bag for your little ones. Research has shown that heavy and inappropriately fitting backpacks can alter posture and alignment and place stress on the musculoskeletal system leading to neck, shoulder, and back pain or injuries with repeated use. Our bodies are complex and dynamic with many systems working together. When one area or system is stressed or overloaded, the body adapts with compensations in other areas. Unfortunately, repeated use of poorly fitting or heavy backpacks can lead to inappropriate postural alignment compensations and stress down the structural chain of the body. Since bookbags are used by our kiddos for a significant time throughout the school year, it is important to take steps to ensure appropriate use to avoid injury or compensations.

A few key concepts to follow when choosing a book bag are to increase the amount of contact area between the child and bag, minimize and distribute the weight, ensure symmetry, and keep the load as close to the trunk as possible. Below are characteristics to look for and practical tips to assist you on this back to school endeavor. 

Optimal backpack characteristics:

  1. Two wide shoulder straps
  2. Padded back and shoulder straps
  3. The width and length of the bag should not be longer than the child’s trunk
  4. Backpacks that buckle at the chest and waist help distribute weight from the spine to the pelvis and chest
  5. Multiple compartments to assist with weight distribution

Optimal backpack use and tips:

  1. Weighs less than 10-15% of your child’s body weight
  2. Frequently check the weight and remove unnecessary items
  3. Involve your child in the process to promote independence with healthy habits
  4. Ensure that it sits in the middle of the back and aligns with the shoulders and hips
  5. Place heaviest items and books towards the back of the bag so that they are closest to the child’s body
  6. Tighten straps so that the bag is closest to the child’s body, but also allowing free movement of the arms while wearing it
  7. Bend at the knees and hips instead of the back when picking up the bag
  8. Wear on both shoulders and avoid bags that rest on only one shoulder
  9. If standing for a long period of time, have child place the backpack on the ground to unload their spine
  10. Lastly, make sure your child has multiple opportunities to engage in play and physical activity throughout the day to build strength, endurance, and postural control

Signs of poor fit and use:

  1. Numbness, tingling, discomfort in arms or legs
  2. Back/ neck pain
  3. Posture changes with forward head and rounded shoulders
  4. Difficulty putting backpack on
  5. Limited arm movement when backpack is on
  6. Red marks on skin

Please do not replace medical advice from your primary care physician, orthopedist, or physical/ occupational therapist with the information presented in this blog post. Always consult your medical team with medical advice.

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