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How to Choose and Adjust the Proper Backpack

Backpacks are everywhere! Most kids wear them to school, adults use them for hiking, going to the gym, or attending events and in some cases, they are used simply as a fashion statement. Are you aware of the hidden dangers behind these backpacks, and the long term effects they have on our bodies? Our purpose today is to educate both children and adults about buying the right backpack, as well as how to adjust it correctly for best fit and to reduce the stress they put on our shoulders, neck, and back.

Have you noticed how heavy and big your kids’ backpacks have gotten over the years, even young kids in elementary school? They’ve gone from holding 10-15 pounds to holding 35-45 pounds. Add the frequency and duration that kids are wearing them, and we have an overuse injury waiting to happen. As a side note: with today’s technology, why haven’t we gone to electronic books that can be stored on our computers or iPads? Storing books electronically would prevent kids from carrying so much weight in their backpacks.

Long term use of heavy backpacks can cause strain injuries to the muscles around our neck, shoulders, and mid to low back. The compression on our spine from the weight causes the discs to compress, increases pressure on the vertebrae, and can even cause scoliosis (a curvature of the spine).

A backpack should never weigh more than 15% of your child’s normal body weight. For example, if a child weighs 100 pounds, their backpack should not weigh more than 15 pounds. If they weigh 125 pounds, the backpack shouldn’t weigh more than 19 pounds.

Encourage your child to only pack what they really need. Throwing in a lot of unnecessary items in the backpack only adds additional weight. During the school day, encourage your child to use their locker to store books, and only carry what they need for one or two classes at a time. Hydration is important, but huge water bottles are heavy. If your child carries a water bottle in their backpack, use a smaller one that they can refill at school.

Buying the right backpack

Over the years, backpacks have gone from small to very large, engulfing some of our little kids. Here’s what to look for in a backpack:

  • A backpack made from a lightweight canvas rather than leather or suede
  • Look for wide straps. The wider a strap is, the less pressure it puts on the neck and shoulder areas. Also look for padded straps, which can further reduce pressure. Padding on the front side of the backpack will help add comfort, reduce pressure on the back, and reduce the possibility of pencils poking through the material and into your child’s back.
  • Look for a waist strap. This can help distribute weight throughout the trunk and decrease some of the pressure on the shoulders, as well as keep the backpack from moving around too much.

Wearing it right

I often see kids and adults wearing backpacks over just one shoulder. While this may be an easy and cool way to wear it, it places all of the weight on just one shoulder. The weight should be evenly distributed over both shoulders to decrease the pressure and to help keep the backpack balanced.

Here are several ways to adjust your backpack to ensure a good fit:

  • Adjust the shoulder straps so that the top of the backpack is at the level of the shoulder blades with the bottom resting in the curve of the lower back. Some backpacks are so long that this fitment won’t be possible. Try your best to make it fit!
  • Wear the waist strap, which will help balance the weight across the body, keep the backpack secure to your truck and prevent it from moving around causing weight shifting.
  • Don’t forget to weigh the backpack when loaded and keep it under 15% of your child’s weight.

We hope these tips will give your child a pain-free start to the upcoming school year!