Every year in August, as children prepare to return to school, we are reminded of the importance of choosing and wearing a proper backpack. Believe it or not, backpacks can have an important health impact on the growing and developing bodies of children. More so, a heavy or poorly fitted backpack can affect a child’s musculoskeletal (MSK) health—both today and in the future. It’s time to review a few guiding principles to prepare your child for school, keeping their MSK health in mind.
It is not uncommon to see children trotting along to school, back hunched forward to balance a heavy or over-sized bag. Unfortunately, carrying such heavy loads long-term can cause problems to a child’s MSK system, and result in back pain—among other things. For example, children may condition their bodies to lean forward, arch their backs, and lean to one side. Creep can settle in the spine, and muscle can become fatigued and strained. This type of physical stress can also alter the posture and gait of children.
So how can these health consequences be prevented? It’s simple—help your child choose the correct backpack which will fit their body and is adjustable as they grow. Follow these tips:
- The backpack should be between 10 to 15 percent of the body weight of the child.
- Distribute the weight of the bag evenly across the back. The more spread out the load is, the less strain there is on the body.
- Make sure the child wears both shoulder straps. Wearing a backpack over just one shoulder can cause leaning to one side, which could curve the spine over time.
- Adjust shoulder straps so the backpack fits closely to the upper part of the body. The further a backpack is away from the body, the more difficult it is to achieve proper balance.
- The backpack should never hang more than four inches below the waistline.
- A backpack with individualized compartments helps in positioning its contents most effectively.
- Bigger is not necessarily better. The more room there is in a backpack, the more your child will carry and the heavier the backpack will likely be.
- The shoulder straps should be adjustable so the backpack can be fitted to your child’s body.