Many families’ back-to-school shopping list will include a new backpack this fall. Don’t buy the cheapest one you can find, advises Dr. Paul Venturini, a Springfield chiropractic physician. Correct backpack design, size and usage help keep children’s backs, shoulders and necks properly aligned and pain free.
In fact, “A 2016 study on back pain published in the Journal of Spine reported that 6 out of 10 children, young adolescents and older adolescents experience back pain related to backpack use,” said Venturini, owner of Advanced Center for Pain and Rehab in Springfield.
Packs that are considerably too heavy or, the study found, slightly too heavy but worn for too long, stress the body and break down tissue – in other words, cause pain. Here’s what your child and adolescent need to support their backs.
“It’s best not to scrimp on the quality of your child’s backpack,” said Venturini. Important features include: lightweight, durable materials; two two-inch adjustable padded straps; a padded back; ideally, a hip/waist belt; and, for children and youth who will have to carry too much weight or for too long a period, wheels.
The backpack should fit within the space from just below the child’s neck to approximately two inches above the hips. Sized appropriately, the pack will not force the child to hunch forward to support it and is less likely to be overly heavy when packed.
Keep the weight to no more than 10 to 15 percent of the child’s weight. So, if a youth weighs 100 pounds, keep the contents to 10 or 15 pounds at most.
Ensure that the straps are positioned to keep the pack from riding too low on the body; this creates a leaning, slouching posture.
Teach children to lift any heavy item by bending the knees and using leg muscles rather than bending and straining the back.
Finally, try to make sure that the child uses both straps, rather than slinging the pack over one shoulder. Dr. Chris Reid, owner of Reid Family Wellness in Springfield, agrees.
“You need bilateral support with equal distribution of the weight snuggled up close to the body, not a crossbody-style bag, and not a two-strap backpack worn over one shoulder,” said Reid. Incorrect sizing, too much weight and wrong usage “create stress on the body, poor posture, humping forward – a recipe for disaster.” Continued aggravation, he continues, can lead to headaches, fatigue, neck stiffness and pain, arm and shoulder problems and more.
“Most kids who experience back pain from backpack use have strained a muscle,” said Venturini. “Reduce the load and carrying time and it will usually get better. If pain is sharp or persistent, see a physician for an assessment and treatment.”
Protect your children’s backs this year with well-designed, properly sized backpacks. Encourage your child to wear it correctly, get as much homework done at school as possible and leave the heavy textbooks in the locker, and consult online resources when possible to reduce wear and tear on their bodies.
“You only get one body,” said Venturini. “Kids who start having back pain that’s not corrected early are much more likely to have back pain later in life.”