Lighten Up: Five Tips for Choosing the Perfect Backpack

While backpacks can be a stylish way for kids to express their personal taste, they may be causing hidden damage to the neck and back. Michael Hunt, DO, an osteopathic pediatrician from St. Louis, offers some helpful tips to keep in mind when helping your child choose a backpack.

“Heavy backpacks can be hazardous to your child’s health,” explains Dr. Hunt. “When used improperly, backpacks are known to pull on ligaments and muscles that cause different aches and pains throughout the neck and back. In severe cases, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans have demonstrated spinal disc compression and spinal curvature.

Backpack Checklist

When it comes to back safety, choosing the right backpack is critical. Here are five things to look for in the perfect backpack:

  1. Wide, padded, and adjustable shoulder straps. “Narrow straps dig into shoulders and can cause pain,” says Dr. Hunt. To avoid this, he recommends backpacks with wide, padded straps. The straps should also be adjustable so that you are able to make the backpack rest on the strongest part of your back. According to Dr. Hunt, failure to do so can cause misalignment, pain, and a condition called sway back, which occurs when the spine is curved inward due to compensating heavy objects carried on the back.
  2. Two straps. Having only one strap can cause alignment problems in the spine. Dr. Hunt cautions that just having two straps is not always enough. “Two straps are only effective if both straps are used,” says Dr. Hunt.
  3. Padded back. The padding on the part of the backpack that touches your pack should provide protection from any oddly-shaped objects inside. “Padded backs relieve strain put on the back when carrying heavy materials,” says Dr. Hunt.
  4. Lightweight. “Backpacks that are heavy when nothing is in them do nothing but add weight to the back,” says Dr. Hunt. A full pack should not weigh more than 15% of body weight.
  5. A lot of compartments. This helps in distributing the weight so it isn’t all carried in one place.

Tips to Prevent Injury

Once your child is outfitted with a safe and comfortable backpack, you can further prevent injury by encouraging your child to do the following:

  1. Use a locker. The more time your child’s supplies are in a locker, the less time the supplies are on his back.
  2. Use technology. Opt for e-textbooks or books on CDs, which many publishers now offer.
  3. Don’t wait until the last minute. Make sure your child is not waiting until the weekend to do all her homework. “When kids wait until the end of the week to bring work home, they are most likely carrying every book and significantly increasing the weight of the backpack,” says Dr. Hunt. “By doing it throughout the week, you can establish a schedule of books to carry to and from school,” he adds.
  4. Speak up when it hurts. If your child does start to experience back or neck pain, make sure he is able to tell you. “When pain is present, it is important to invest in a new backpack as soon as possible,” Dr. Hunt says.

“While the type of backpack your child uses may reflect a type of style, make sure that it also reflects safety,” says Dr. Hunt. “And don’t forget that it is just as important for adults to make sure their own backpacks, purses, diaper bags, etc., are not holding excessive weight and that they are carrying them around properly.”

REF: American Osteopathic Association