How to Protect Your Child’s Back From Too Heavy Backpacks

After taking the obligatory photo at the front door on my child’s first day of kindergarten, I noticed that her backpack looked a little saggy.

“Maggie, does the backpack hurt you?” I have asked.

“Only when I’m wearing it,” she said.

I opened my backpack, rearranged its contents, and removed my lunch bag stuffed with a bulky bento box and a full thermos. This made it much more convenient.

When children return to school, make sure their backpacks do not hurt their backs. (I should have checked my daughter earlier.) Backpacks that are too heavy, improperly fitted, or unevenly weighted can lead to pain or poor posture that can persist later in life. Here are some tips to help protect them.

Visit local hiking and camping shops

Dr. Daniel Pozarnski , a North Dakota-based chiropractor, recommends visiting stores such as REI, Dick’s Sporting Good, or Scheels All Sports to try them on in person. “They have professional hikers who can fit your child into a great backpack and make recommendations based on your child’s body structure,” he says. A few of his kids’ favorites include the Osprey Youth Jet 12 Backpack, the MoonRock MR3 School Backpack, and the REI Co-op Tarn 18 Pack .

When choosing a backpack, pay attention to the following:

  • Two wide, padded, adjustable shoulder straps. Tight straps can dig into your baby’s shoulders, restricting blood circulation. Avoid shoulder straps – they don’t distribute weight evenly. And make sure your kid is actually wearing both straps – the one-strap look that was seen in Fast Times in Ridgemont High (and every other 80s youth movie) is no longer cool anyway .
  • Many compartments. This way you can shuffle things to make the backpack more comfortable. Place the heaviest objects as close to the child’s body as possible and make sure that nothing pointed or irregularly shaped does not dig into the child’s back.
  • Lightweight materials. Leather (and faux leather) may look pretty, but it weighs a lot more than canvas or nylon.
  • Waist belt and chest strap. This helps to distribute the weight more evenly. If your child’s backpack doesn’t have a sternum strap, you can add one cheaply .
  • Correct fit. Look for a backpack thatroughly fits your child’s size according to the HealthSource chiropractic system – it should sit just below your child’s shoulder blades, be no wider than your back, or go below your waist.

Lighten the load

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children carry no more than 10–20 percent of their weight in a backpack. (Although many healthcare professionals think 15 percent should be the absolute maximum.) That means my tiny day care center only has to lug around four pounds or so. If you are not sure if your child’s backpack is too heavy, put all the normal contents inside and slap it on the bathroom scale.

Look for signs of a backpack that is too heavy.

Symptoms include children “grunting” when they lift their backpacks, bending forward as they stand up, and complaints of numbness in the arms and hands, Pozarnski said.

Consider a backpack on wheels

AAP recommends the use of rolling backpacks to avoid additional stress on the shoulders. Just remember that kids still have to carry these bags over curbs and stairs (and in some places over snow), so they should be fairly easy to carry when needed.

Do not attach the lunch box to your backpack

Many backpacks and lunch bags are now sold as sets and you can attach the two together using a strap. Sounds comfortable, but a heavy lunch bag dangling from your backpack can make installation awkward. It is usually best for your child to keep the lunch bag inside the package or carry it separately.

Do weekly checks

It’s easy for kids to pile up PTA flyers, art projects, school supplies, extra water bottles, and half-eaten snacks, so make sure you’re constantly helping to shed dead weight. If your child seems to carry stacks of textbooks with them at all times, talk to their teacher about options, including using school lockers and getting digital copies of the text to read at home.


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