Backpack use to avoid injury

Tips for Avoiding Back Pain with Backpacks

Fall has arrived! As we get into the swing of the school year, it’s important to consider the best use of backpacks to prevent poor posture and ensure safety.

As handy as backpacks are, they can cause problems if they’re not sized properly or if they are of poor quality. An ill-fitting or overweight backpacks can lead to poor posture and result in neck, shoulder and/or back pain. A study of 1,122 adolescents using backpacks found that up to 74% experience back pain.

  • Adolescents with back pain were more likely to be female, to report poorer general health, and to have a larger body mass index than adolescents without back pain.
  • Adolescents with back pain were more likely to carry a heavier backpack and to use their backpack more during the school day than adolescents without back pain.
  • Adolescents without back pain were more likely to attend schools that had banned the carrying of backpacks between classes.

Backpack Fit Tips

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents and kids look for the following when choosing their backpacks:

  • Lightweight – the backpack should not add a lot of weight to your child’s load
  • Wide, padded shoulder straps – straps that are too narrow may dig into the shoulders
  • A padded back - this provides comfort and protects kids from being poked by sharp objects that might be in the pack
  • A waist belt – will help distribute weight more evening across the body
  • Multiple compartments – will help distribute the weight of the items in the backpack more evenly
  • Size – a smaller child will need a smaller backpack for the correct fit

Once you have found the right backpack for you or your child, consider the proper use. Doctors and physical therapists recommend that kids carry pack of no more than 10-15% of their body weight. If a child weighs 80 lbs, their backpack should be 12 lbs or less. Kids should also make sure to use both shoulder straps to avoid muscle strain and keep the weight evenly distributed. The straps should be tightened so the back rests evenly in the middle of the back and not sag down to the buttocks.

Suggestions for Your Child

  • Use a locker or desk between classes instead of carrying an entire days’ worth of books
  • Avoid carrying unnecessary items that may add extra weight
  • Bring home only the books needed for homework or studying each night
  • Pick up the backpack correctly: bend at the knees and grab the pack with both hands when lifting to the shoulders
  • Use all of the backpack compartments, putting the heaviest items closest to the center of the back

Sarah Hall is a physical therapist in Redmond, Washington, and a FIT4MOM instructor. If your child is experiencing pain, numbness or weakness in the arms or legs, talk to your doctor or Advantage Physical Therapy (425-883-9630) to schedule an evaluation. It may be a simple solution requiring adjustment of the back pack, or your child may benefit from exercises that promote better posture.

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Proper Backpack Use in Kiddos

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