Although there are very few studies and the medical literature does not agree on specific guidelines for backpack safety to avoid back pain, parents can use common sense to reduce the chance that their child will suffer back pain due to carrying a backpack.
Look for backpack design features that help reduce the chance of back pain:
- Lightweight material (canvas as opposed to leather)
- Two padded, wide (2-inches), adjustable shoulder straps on the backpack
- Consider using a separate bag for the child's laptop or other heavier electronic items
Teach your child how to properly load and wear the backpack to avoid back pain:
- Always use both shoulder straps and wear the backpack on the back rather than over one shoulder
- Pack heaviest objects into the backpack first so they are carried lower and closest to the body
- Pack sharp or bulky objects in the backpack so they do not contact the back
- Do not lean forward when walking; if this is necessary, there is too much weight in the backpack
Maintain a mindset to watch the weight carried in the backpack to reduce back pain:
- If the child complains of discomfort, reduce the weight in the backpack immediately
- Consider applying a guideline backpack weight limit as a percent of the child's body weight. The American Physical Therapy Association suggests 15-20%; the American Chiropractic Association advises 5-10%
Become a Proactive Parent on the Issue of Backpacks and Back Pain
- Ask your child if they feel any back aches or pain
- Talk to teachers about how to minimize the need for children to transport heavy books back and forth daily in their backpacks; keep one set of books in the classroom for daily work while leaving heavy books at home; make photocopies of homework chapters and assignments that are easily carried
Finally, there are a number of alternatives to traditional backpacks on the market. These include saddle bags, rollerbags, backpacks with inflatable lumbar support and straps, totally inflatable backpacks, and molded backpacks.
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