It is that time of year again when our children are getting ready to pack their bags and return to school. I don’t know about you, but my children tell me that they don’t have any time in between their classes to stop at a locker and swap out books. Therefore, they pack everything they need for the whole day in their backpack and carry it around. This includes laptops, books, folders, binders, etc. It is crazy!
There have been times that I have gone to pick up their backpack and I strained every muscle in my body because it is so heavy. I am not sure how they don’t have the worst back pain imaginable having to carry around all that weight for the whole day. In this article I will offer some tips to avoid overloading your child’s backpack and putting your child at risk of injuring his or her back.
I am an avid hiker/backpacker, and our general principle is the bigger the pack the more stuff you will put in it and the heavier it will be. Size Matters! In this case we don’t want the backpack to be too big. Make sure we are buying a good size that fits our child. Smaller children need smaller bags. Bigger children can have a bigger bag. No matter the size of the child or the size of the bag we should only carry up to 15% of our body weight. A child that weighs 100 pounds shouldn’t carry any more than 15 pounds on his or her back. If carrying more than 15% is unavoidable then we should look into other options like a rolling bag….cue the eye roll (At least that is what my children do)! Want to get another eye roll, suggest a backpack with a chest or waist strap. This is definitely not cool, but will offer more support and reduce the force going through their spine.
How we wear our bag matters as well. Both straps should be worn, not just one strap. With both straps on the weight is distributed more evenly. The bag should sit in the middle of your back. This allows the appropriate muscles to carry a bulk of the weight. If it sits too high or too low, it will affect which muscles are doing most of the work.
Along with wearing it properly, how you pack it is very important. The heavier items should be packed closer to the back of the bag, so that when you wear the bag it is close to your body. The farther away the weight is away from your body the more force it is going to put through your spine.
So, with these tips in mind let’s pack them up and send them to school. In this post-Covid world where the home has become the office, it has been a long summer!
Scott Zattoni, PT, DPT
Pediatric Therapeutic Services