Time for a new backpack?
Doing back-to-school shopping? Follow these four tips to avoid a backpack that causes back pain.
School is about to start in the next few weeks, and I often get questions from parents concerned about their children’s backpacks. Is wearing a backpack harmful to my child? Will it cause scoliosis or growth issues? How can I protect my child?
First, backpack use will not cause scoliosis, S-curve of the spine, or kyphosis, hunch back, in your child. There is no medical data to support this. However, a poorly fitting backpack or a backpack worn incorrectly can cause back pain. It can also cause injury to muscles and joints including the spine and shoulders. This pain can cause time off sports, school and increase costs for healthcare.
Here are some helpful tips for backpack purchases and use:
- Look for a backpack that is roughly no wider than your child’s torso and isn’t too heavy – In general, a backpack should be appropriately sized to the child and weight should not exceed about 10% to 20% of the child’s weight. Children should wear straps symmetrically on both shoulders to minimize muscle strain and imbalance. The backpack itself should not be too heavy.
- Straps should be wide – A backpack with two wide symmetric shoulder straps will allow the weight to be evenly distributed when worn. Other features that can help with comfort are a padded back and waist strap. Rolling bags eliminate the load on the back, however, they cause a significant tripping hazard and are not routinely allowed in many schools.
- Straps should sit narrow enough so they will stay on the child’s shoulders and not fall off – Have your child practice putting on the backpack and make sure they do it bending at the knees. Wearing a backpack on one shoulder can cause significant neck and back strain, so help kids learn the importance of proper wear. Ensure the straps are snug and the backpack does not sag down to the buttocks.
- Pack strategically – When packing a backpack, put the heaviest items, such as books, in the center and closest to the part of the bag that will lean on the back. Utilize the other compartments to distribute the load for lighter items. If the backpack is too heavy, eliminate items like toys, games or extra clothing. Consider having your child carry a book or two in hand if the backpack is too heavy. Also, suggest the child drop books at the school locker if possible.
If these changes aren’t helping and the problem persists, consider asking the school about a second set of books or discuss with them ways to eliminate the need to carry so many, such as online resources.
If your child complains of back pain, consider checking the backpack and following the tips above. If they complain of numbness or tingling with backpack use, then it is time to seek medical care.
Dr. Kristina Sinacori Walick is a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Advocate Medical Group.