In addition to considering the load and design of a backpack, a child’s physical fitness, and physical maturation are important factors to consider. Children and teenagers are particularly at risk for injury. Since kids are still growing and developing, excessive load can lead to poor positioning and increased tension on muscles and other supporting structures which can lead to acute injury or long-term chronic health problems.
Students can prevent injury and promote better back health by fitting and using a backpack that works for rather than against them.
The Canadian Physiotherapy Association (CPA) recommends using backpacks with the following features.
A backpack should be fitted to the person, not the person to the backpack. Do not oversize a backpack to carry more. Shoulder straps should fit comfortably and allow arms to move freely, not dig into the shoulders. The bottom of the pack should rest in the curve of the lower back. A well-fitted pack sits evenly in the middle of the back, and does not sag toward the buttocks.
Backpacks should be made of a lightweight material like canvas to reduce weight. Many compartments allow better storage and the ability to balance the weight of the contents throughout the pack. Large, flat items should be placed closest to the back.
Look for padding. A padded back reduces pressure and prevents pack contents from digging into the back. Padded, contoured shoulder and chest straps also ease pressure and balance weight. Backpacks should have thickly padded, adjustable shoulder straps at least two inches wide. Shoulder straps should be adjusted so the bottom of the pack sits two inches above the waist.
A waist belt or hip strap distributes part of the load to the pelvis. A belt sends the weight of the pack down through the legs, which are better able to carry weight. As well, it keeps the pack in a central position, closer to the back.
Compression straps on the sides or bottom of the backpack compact and stabilize contents.
Reflective material makes the wearer more visible to drivers, especially at night.
Children need to understand that placing too much weight on the spine can cause back problems now and in the future. When worn correctly, the weight of the backpack is distributed over larger body areas and is balanced appropriately. The larger stabilizing muscles of the trunk, pelvis and legs work effectively to hold the body in proper balance, posture and alignment and there is less muscle fatigue associated with these positions.
Parents, check backpacks to make sure kids are not carrying their whole world around with them. Weigh the back pack before they take off for the day. Talk about how and why to wear a backpack properly, and be alert for the following signs that the back pack is creating problems:
Above all, make sure your kids know to tell you when they have pain or discomfort, before the problem becomes serious.
Growing quickly, smoking, lack of physical activity and working while attending school can also contribute to back pain. Teaching your child how to properly wear a backpack is a good start in avoiding future back problems.