National School Backpack Awareness Day is an annual event held on the third Wednesday of every September. Being aware of how your child is wearing their backpack is important because it can affect their health. In one study of American students ages 11-15, 64% of them reported back pain related to heavy backpacks, and 21% of those children stated that the pain lasted for more than 6 months. So backpacks are causing our kids to have chronic back pain. And it is not just the young ones; a study by Boston University found that approximately 85% of university students reported discomfort and pain from backpack usage. But there is hope, in a study on the effect of backpack education on student behavior and health, nearly 8 out of 10 middle school students who changed how they loaded and wore their backpacks reported less pain and strain on their backs, necks and shoulders.
In order to help prevent back & neck problems from carrying a book-bag, it must be loaded and worn properly. To begin with, a backpack should be chosen that fits your child’s frame. Its height should be no longer than the distance from 2 inches below your child’s shoulders to their waistline or even slightly above the waist. The pack should have well-padded shoulder straps in order to protect the blood vessels and nerves that are in the neck and shoulder area. A book-bag with a waist belt is also preferred because it helps to take some of the weight off of their shoulders and neck and distributes the weight more evenly across their back.
When you load the backpack, be aware that it should weigh no more than 15% of their body weight (so a 100 pound child should carry a backpack weighing no more than 15 pounds). When loading the items, make sure the heaviest items are loaded closest to the child’s back, and arrange the materials so they won’t move around inside. Obviously, your child needs to transport certain items back and forth to school with them, but if something isn’t necessary for that day’s activities, you may want to leave it out in order to lighten the load. If your child consistently carries a heavier than recommended book-bag, you may want to consider purchasing one on wheels if your school allows it. However, these backpacks as a rule are generally heavier than traditional packs and are harder to maneuver on and off buses as well as up and down stairs. Ultimately, they may be more of a problem than what they are worth.
When wearing a backpack, the weight should be distributed evenly on both shoulders by using both straps. Wearing a pack slung over one shoulder can cause a child to lean to one side, curving the spine and causing back pain. Make sure that the straps are adjusted so that they fit snugly and allow the backpack to remain close to the child’s back. A pack that hangs too loosely can pull the child backwards and strain their back muscles. Again, wearing a waist belt will help keep the backpack snug against the back. Ultimately, the bottom of the book-bag should never rest more than 4 inches below the child’s waistline.
Wearing a properly loaded and weighted backpack can help prevent your child from developing chronic back pain and keep their spine healthier. If you have any questions about your child’s backpack, feel free to contact me or I am sure your own chiropractor will be more than willing to help fit your child’s backpack properly.