Kids & Backpacks: Smart Tips for Spine Safety
At the San Diego Center for Spinal Disorders (SDCSD), we sometimes treat children for back and neck pain associated with backpack use. Unfortunately, this is a growing problem. Backpacks that are poorly designed, worn incorrectly, or simply overloaded can cause unnecessary and harmful stress to the entire spine. This is one reason why many children complain of muscle aches and pain in the neck, shoulders, and low back.
Does that mean that your child should not use a backpack? No! A backpack can be a great convenience when you know how to choose the right one for your child and incorporate sound rules about its use.
The tips listed below are provided to help you and your child make smart choices about selecting, packing, lifting, and wearing a backpack.
Considerations When Choosing the Best Backpack
- The size of the backpack is probably the most important decision. A loaded backpack should not exceed 15% of the child's body weight. For example: A child who weighs 100 pounds should not carry a backpack that weighs more than 15 pounds. Never should a child wear a backpack that exceeds 25 pounds- no matter how much the child weighs.
- Avoid choosing a backpack with many compartments. Although compartments help to keep things organized, many pockets can make it easy to overload the backpack.
- Backpacks are made from different materials such as synthetic textiles, heavy canvas and leather. Avoid materials that add unnecessary weight to the backpack. Leather looks good - but it is too heavy! Many synthetic materials are light-weight, durable, water resistant and available in a range of fashionable colors.
- A backpack made from a reflective material is a good choice. It can make it easier for your child to be seen at night.
- Choose a backpack with wide padded shoulder straps, a padded back, and a waist strap. Some backpacks are available with adjustable air-filled cushions that help to protect the back.
- Look for a backpack with compression straps. These straps can be tightened to help stabilize the backpack's contents.
- Consider choosing a backpack equipped with wheels.
Tips for Loading a Backpack
Plan ahead and stay organized! Determine which books and items are needed for the day. If your child's school has lockers, a lunchtime locker stopover provides an opportunity to replace morning necessities with those needed for the afternoon.
Pack heavier things such as textbooks close to the back. Arrange items so they don't shift during wear. Compression straps will help to keep everything secure.
Be careful about packing scissors, rulers or other sharp objects. Pack sharp objects inside a protective pouch or in such a way to avoid stabbing during wear or when the backpack is reopened (contents may shift during wear!). Lifting a 'Packed' Backpack Your child should be able to lift his or her own backpack without assistance. If not, the backpack is too heavy to wear.
Step 1: Face the backpack
Step 2: Tighten the stomach muscles and bend at the knees (squat)
Step 3: Grip the backpack with both hands
Step 4: Keep the backpack close to the body and lift using the leg muscles Step
Step 5: Do not twist or turn the body while lifting
Step 6: Slip one shoulder strap on at a time
Step 7: Secure the waist strap
How to Wear a Backpack
- Position the backpack close to the back. Adjust the shoulder straps so the load stays snug against the back. The straps should be snug but comfortable, and should allow both arms to easily move.
- Wear both shoulder straps. This will help to distribute the load evenly.
- The backpack should hang just below the shoulders with the bottom of the pack resting in the low back curve.
- Adjust and use the waist strap to help keep the backpack close to the back. This will help to reduce shoulder and back strain.
Note: Each time the backpack is repacked, it may be necessary to readjust the shoulder and waist straps.