Published on November 04, 2016

Healthy Spines: The Do’s and Don’ts of Backpacks

By Krishn M. Sharma, MD

Girl with School BagThe school year’s in full swing, and with midterms and final exams approaching, backpacks are getting heavier. The truth is, they come in all shapes and sizes.  Some have multiple compartments for storage while others have just one large storage space.  When used properly, they can be a tremendous asset to your child.  When not used properly, they can be a source of pain and poor posture in kids.  More often than not, they are used incorrectly, yielding potentially harmful results. 

Backpacks are meant to allow us to carry more and/or heavier items then we might otherwise be able to carry from a different type of bag. This can result in overloading the back. The common recommendation is for backpacks to weigh no more than 10-15% of a person’s bodyweight. An entire day of schoolbooks, papers and personal effects frequently will weigh more than a school-age child. As parents ourselves, we encourage you to advise your children to leave unnecessary items at home.

Here are some examples of improperly using backpacks, which can cause unwanted pain:

  • Utilizing only one shoulder strap. This behavior, common in kids, causes the body to shift or lean to accommodate the extra weight. 
  • This change in posture can also be a contributing factor to back pain.

Here are some tips for proper backpack use:

  1. Don’t overload the pack, keep it to less than 10-15% of body weight.
  2. Choose a backpack that is lightweight and has multiple compartments.
  3. Encourage the use of both shoulder straps.
  4. If there is a waist-belt, then use that, too! It will transfer weight evenly from the shoulders to the pelvis/lower body.
  5. Only bring what you really need back and forth to school. An extra trip to the locker during the day can significantly reduce the number of books carried around.
  6. Kids are being encouraged to drink water, and as a result, are walking around with large water bottles in their backpacks. Encourage them to fill up the water bottle at school to lighten the load during the morning commute.
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