Backpack Safety: Which Backpack is Right for Your Child?

Backpacks are an excellent resource for every kid’s school workload if worn properly.   The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recommends that, “backpacks should only be as heavy as 10-15 percent of child’s body weight”.  If not, they can lead to both pain and poor posture.

With hundreds of backpacks from which to choose, which is right for your child?

Here are a few helpful hints to finding the backpack that fits. 

CONSIDER WHEN PURCHASING A BACKPACK

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents look for the following:

  • Wide, padded shoulder straps – narrow straps can dig into the shoulders
  • Two shoulder straps – this helps to distribute weight evenly across your child’s body
  • Padded back – protects against sharp edges on objects, such as text books, inside the pack
  • Waist strap – again, this will distribute weight more evenly
  • Lightweight backpack – this will help to prevent backpacks from becoming too heavy from the beginning
  • Rolling backpack – consider if your child totes a heavier workload, but remember, these rolling bags may be difficult to carry up stairs and to roll through snow.  Be sure to check with the school before buying – some schools do not allow rolling backpacks since they can be a trip hazard.

A 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.

WHAT KIDS CAN DO

Ultimately, the responsibility for packing and properly using their backpack rests with your kids.  Encourage them to:

  • Try to use their locker or desk frequently instead of carrying the entire day’s worth of books from classroom to classroom
  • Get rid of the extra weight –  remove laptops, cell phones, and/or video games
  • Bring home only the books needed for homework that night
  • Pick up their backpack by bending at the knees and grabbing the pack with both hands when lifting to their shoulders
  • Place heavier items, such as textbooks, in the backpacks main section closest to the center of the back
  • Wear both shoulder straps. Lugging the backpack around by one strap can cause a disproportionate shift of weight to one side, leading to neck and muscle spasms, as well as low-back pain.

If your child does develop back pain or numbness or weakness in the arms or legs and uses a backpack, talk to your doctor or physical therapist.

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