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Backpacks and your children’s health – 8 tips for choosing the right backpack.

Updated: Sep 8, 2020

It’s back to school for thousands of children in Oshawa, Whitby and Durham Region this week, and it’s a time of year that drives me crazy. Why? I see kids walking to school everyday with backpacks that are too big for them and are not fitted properly. Backpacks affect your child’s health. This year children will likely have no access to lockers. They will have to lug their backpack around now more than ever before.

Consider this. Your child leaves the house in the morning with a backpack holding all of the essentials they will need during the day: books, supplies, lunch and a water or beverage bottle of some kind. And most of the time there is way too much stuff in the backpack and it becomes a chore for the child or teenager to even carry it. And they do this 5 days a week, 30-60 minutes everyday, sometimes for hours at a time. This can lead to poor posture and a distorted spinal column. And over time this can cause a muscle strain, headaches, neck, back and arm pain and can even cause nerve damage.

Worse yet, your child can develop health problems that don’t cause pain. Most people, even doctors mistakenly do not attribute health problems to the spine and posture. Remember only 10% of nerves feel pain. Just because you might feel OK doesn’t mean that backpack posture and overall posture is not contributing to health! “Posture affects and moderates every physiological function from breathing to hormone production. Spinal pain, headache, mood, blood pressure, pulse, and lung capacity are among the functions most easily influenced by posture.” This appeared in the American Journal of Pain Management.

Your child’s asthma, headaches, hormonal problems, you name it, can be caused by his/her spine and overall posture. Again they didn’t say some physiological function is affected by posture. The medical researchers said “EVERY PHYSIOLOGICAL FUNCTION IS AFFECTED BY POSTURE.” Pain or not, bad posture will lead to bad health. This is why Drs. Amar, Jason, Kimberly and myself do not want you to wait until your child develops pain to pay attention to spinal health and posture.

On top of this, most children are using smartphones, iPads or other devices that are causing text neck and tech neck. We are seeing a disturbing trend in the majority of teenagers showing abnormal neck curves on x-ray many of which are showing arthritis already forming before adulthood!

The incidence of back pain in children

is getting worse and this is directly correlated

with the increases in backpack loads.

Research is now proving this. A study of 1,400 Spanish students between the ages of 12 – 17, identified the weight carried by most school children:

  • 60% of children carried packs that weighed more than 10% of their body weight

  • 20% of children carried packs that weighed more than 15% of their body weight

  • 25% of children reported back pain, with higher rates in girls

  • And finally, the incidence of back pain was higher in older students, which could show the damage caused by backpacks accumulated and got worse as the teenagers got older; or perhaps older student were just carrying heavier packs.

We know now that most back pain occurs when the backpack shoulder, waist or hip straps are not tightened properly pulling the children’s shoulders and upper body backwards – which means that they have to exert against this pulling action. When the straps are properly tightened and fitted properly, the weight of the bag is vertically against the spine. The more the pack is positioned away from the back, the more the pivoting effect of the backpack is pronounced, causing a twisting action on the spine. The same goes when the child wears the pack over one shoulder – it strains the back and the spine.

Bottom line: parents should buy a backpack that’s appropriate for the size of their child.

Don’t buy it too big so that they can grow into it. Most bags don’t last more than a year anyway. The bag should go from the shoulder line down to the waist or hip line. No further. And let your kids tell you if they feel any tingling or numbness in the arms or legs – a clear warning sign that the pack is too heavy or is not fitted properly.

Have your child's backpack posture assessed at Welcome to Wellness! Drs. Kimberly, Jason and Phil are happy to help your children stay healthy at school! Pack it light and wear it right with these tips:

Here are 8 tips for Choosing a Backpack

for your Children’s Health:

  1. Observe your child as they put their backpack on. Are they struggling with the weight? If it appears to be too heavy, remove some books and have your child carry them in their arms to release some of the load on their spine.

  2. The pack should be sturdy and very lightweight. It should not weigh more than 10-12% of their bodyweight.

  3. Shoulder straps should be padded and at least 6 cm (2 inches) wide. The fit should be comfortable and snug.

  4. Try to find a backpack with a waist belt or hip strap. This pulls the pack against the body and does not lean out and cause strain.

  5. Check your child’s backpack regularly. Make sure that they are only carrying what is absolutely necessary for that day. It also helps to remove any leftover food that might be left in there for weeks! (Talking from experience here!)

  6. Make sure the packs are loaded properly to distribute the load evenly, so that most of the weight is positioned against their back. Make sure they learn and understand this. Heavy, bulky items should be placed in the center of the pack, towards the bottom.

  7. Have them readjust their straps every time they put it on. As the load changes, adjustments need to be made as well.

  8. Finally, a spinal health evaluation and regular checkups are recommended for all children. When it comes to correcting one’s spine, ” The sooner, the better” is an understatement.” Bring in the backpack and we’ll see if this is a source for health problems.

That said, I want to wish everyone who’s going back to school a great year and much success!


REFERENCES: AJPM 1994: 4:36-39 (American Journal of Pain Management)

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