Buying a backpack for your child is not as simple as choosing which teenage heartthrob or superhero is pictured on the outside. The most important factor to consider is back safety. Carrying heavy loads of books on your back daily can lead to serious back and neck problems – which can be compounded if the child is also active in sports or already has a back issue such as scoliosis or underdeveloped muscles. Practicing “backpack safety” can start your child on the road to greater back health throughout their lives. As adults who may have had (or have!) back issues ourselves we can understand how important this is. Here are some guidelines to consider when choosing a backpack for your child.
Select the right size and fit
Don’t buy a backpack for your child that is too big assuming they will “grow into it”. Select a size appropriate for your child’s frame. Straps should fit squarely on their shoulders, should be adjustable so they fit snugly, and should be padded for comfort. How do you determine the correct size backpack? While some backpacks have torso length tables to assist you in size selection, many children’s backpacks do not. However, it is easy to determine if a backpack is the correct size for your child. Simply hold the backpack up to the back of the individual. The backpack hip belt (or bottom of backpack) should be level with the Iliac Crest, also known as the Hipbone. If the backpack does not extend past shoulder height by more than 4 cm or is not lower than the shoulder height by 8 cm, then it is the appropriate size backpack.
Wear backpack properly
Encourage your child to wear the backpack with both straps, not just slung over one shoulder. Carrying a heavy load on one shoulder can lead to back and neck soreness and ultimately injury. Children should use the straps that go around the waist, if provided, for added support.
Pack it properly
Heavier items should be packed in the back of the backpack, up against your child’s back, while lighter items can be placed in the front. Hanging items from the straps such as lunch bags or water bottles can be convenient, but may throw your child off balance. Encourage them to pack these inside the backpack.
Don’t over pack it
We’ve all seen the child with an overloaded backpack stooped over forward just so they can keep their balance from the heavy load on their back. This is a recipe for back disaster! Doctors recommend that children should only carry loads up to 15% of their weight to avoid injuring the back and spine. This means a 100lb child should only carry up to 15lbs on their back! (15lbs is roughly two textbooks and a paper filled notebook.) Encourage your child to use their locker to store books between classes so they are not hauling an entire days worth of books on their back.
Consider a backpack with wheels
If your child needs to carry loads that are more than 15% of their bodyweight consider purchasing a backpack with wheels. This option can be quite convenient and a great way to “take a load off.” However, it is still necessary to be careful when packing this style of backpack. An overloaded and heavy pack can be a problem for the child if he or she has to carry it up and down stairs at school.
With all of the different backpack styles available you should be able to find one the right size and style to accommodate your child’s needs and keep them safe from injury.
Don’t forget, these same guidelines apply to adults, too. Whether you are carrying a backpack daily for school, work, or occasionally for travel, make sure you follow the guidelines of “backpack safety.” Your back will thank you.
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