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Back-to-School: Backpack Safety

By Sara Butler

Child with Backpack Standing in front of School Bus

It’s OK to admit it: You’re ready for your kids to go back to school. Sure, the summer was fun but it’s time to get back to a regular routine for the sake of sanity! Now you get to take your kids back-to-school shopping so you can argue with them over the finer points of jean tightness and socks with the seams they don’t like. And of course, you will buy your child a new backpack. Of all the things you purchase for your child, the backpack you help them choose will be one of the biggest influences on their health and wellness. Does this surprise you? It shouldn’t.

At The Joint Chiropractic, August is Back-to-School Backpack Safety Month. It’s our mission to show every parent just how important selecting the right backpack is to the health and safety of their child. Here’s what you need to keep in mind as you find the right backpack for your child to get the new year started off right -- you’re on your own with the socks, though.

The Risks of Backpacks

Backpacks offer a practical way for your child to carry all they need (and some of what they don’t) to and from school each day. It helps to distribute the sometimes heavy loads of schoolbooks across the back and shoulders. The biggest health risk for your child is overload, which can lead to strain of the neck, shoulders, and back.

Over time, your child’s back will compensate for any load it carries for an extended period of time. This can result in:

  • Rounding of the shoulders
  • Distortion of natural curves in the back
  • Muscle strain
  • Irritation to the spinal joints and ribs
  • Disturbance of the natural center of gravity, reducing balance

What can make it even worse is your child attempting to look cool by carrying their backpack on just one shoulder. This can cause the muscles on the opposite side of the body to compensate for the uneven distribution of weight, leading to joint dysfunction and restriction. Basically, it can cause your young and resilient child to develop back, neck, shoulder, and even hip pain. They’re too young for that and you probably feel too old for it!

Bad backpack habits can also lead to chronic headaches. So if your child starts to complain of headaches, their backpack may be to blame.

What You Can Do

If your child wants to have the coolest new Spider-Man backpack on the market or that sweet Wonder Woman (or Hello Kitty) model, it’s probably OK. There are just a few rules you need to keep in mind when shopping for a backpack. According to the American Chiropractic Association, you should remember these tips. Choose a backpack that:

  • Is made from lightweight material
  • Has two padded, wide (at least two inches), adjustable shoulder straps
  • Is padded at the part of the backpack that rests against the back
  • Has individual compartments
  • Has a hip strap, frame, or waist belt to help redistribute the weight

Teach Your Children

Another important aspect of backpack safety is teaching your child how to use it properly. After all, it’s going to be draped over their shoulders for the next year. They may totally disregard your advice, but hey -- at least you tried, right?

Your child can avoid back pain when using a backpack by:

  • Always using both shoulder straps
  • Never carrying the backpack on just one shoulder
  • Packing the heaviest objects first so they’re carried closest to the body
  • Pack compartments to evenly distribute the weight
  • Adjust the straps so they fit snugly to the child’s body and so that the backpack rests at least two inches above their waist
  • Lifting the backpack properly, using the legs and never the back
  • Not leaning forward while carrying it -- if they have to lean in an effort to balance the weight, then it’s too heavy
  • Have your child clean their backpack out at least once a week

As a parent, you should be on the lookout for:

  • Any complaints of discomfort by the child
  • Never packing more weight than what equals 10 - 15% percent of the child’s body weight

There are several alternatives available to traditional backpacks but some schools don’t allow them. Before you buy anything, it’s best to check the school rules to see what they are allowed to carry. If your child wants something different, there are bags with rollers, molded backpacks, and even backpacks with inflatable straps and lumbar support.

Backpacks have come a long way since the days I was in school. Times have changed for the better, so use advances to keep your child safe in all the ways you can -- including their backpack.

For more back-to-school safety tips, visit The Joint Chiropractic's infographic: Backpack Safety: Backpack Tips for Little Backs

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