Most of us accept the sight of school-aged kids wearing backpacks as completely typical, perhaps even emblematic of their stage of life. It’s true, in fact, that a properly fitted and worn backpack does provide one of the most practical solutions for transporting textbooks and other school supplies. The problem is that many kids aren’t using and wearing their backpacks correctly, which can cause lingering muscle pain and issues with spinal misalignment.
These are some of the most common reasons that kids experience pain related to school backpacks:
Their pack is the wrong size for their body. For optimal fit, a backpack should be no longer or wider than the wearer’s torso. When there’s too much extra room in the pack, weight can shift from side to side or get dragged below the child’s waist rather than staying anchored near the center of the torso.
The straps are too narrow, too thin, or both. Wide, well-padded straps distribute weight more evenly and comfortably across both shoulders, unlike narrower, thinner straps. An adjustable waist strap with a buckle is a helpful feature to look for; it provides postural support and prevents pack weight from pulling your child’s shoulders too far back.
They’re carrying the backpack improperly. Kids tend to sling their backpacks over one shoulder, both because it’s quicker and because they may see it is being more “stylish”. Over time, though, concentrating that much extra weight on one side of the body will cause the muscles on the opposing side to tighten up as a way of compensating for the imbalance of force. This can lead to significant or chronic pain in the neck, shoulders, and back, as well as other areas of the body.
The backpack is too heavy. A fully loaded backpack should never exceed 10-15% of the wearer’s body weight. A child’s body is still developing, and younger children in particular often lack the bone maturity or muscle volume necessary to support a lot of extra weight. However, even teenagers can experience strain from an overloaded backpack. Help your child avoid this problem by eliminating any unneeded items from his or her backpack, or minimizing the number of books and supplies being carried at any one time. If there’s no good way to make your child’s backpack lighter, it may be worth investing in a wheeled pack that can be pulled rather than carried.
Help! We already bought a new backpack!
If you aren’t quite ready to shop for a new backpack just yet, don’t worry--even a few simple adjustments to your child’s current pack can make a world of difference. Do what you can to limit weight, and adjust the straps as much as possible to keep the weight centered from side to side and top to bottom across your child’s shoulders and torso. You can also remind your child to wear both straps at all times, and use the waist strap if there’s one present. These measures should help to prevent the worst of the strain on your child’s muscles and joints and cut down on any associated discomfort.
When it comes to making going back to school as painless as possible, every little bit helps!