Who knew that the ubiquitous school backpack could actually create health issues for children and teenagers?

Before you buy that cute and colourful backpack for your six-year-old heading off to school for the first time, consider how it can affect their spine.

Student back injuries are pretty widespread. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that 96% of pupils monitored haul far too much weight for their back. Fast forward a few years, and there may have a number of long-term issues that will affect the child with everything from minor everyday movements to poor posture, headaches, chronic neck arm and back pain, and a host of other problems.

The back should be viewed as any other kind of load-bearing equipment. Similar to trucks, trains, and ships, if loads are too heavy or unstable, the entire operation is at risk! We also have to remember that the spine covers and protects the nervous system which controls every cell, tissue, and organs in the body. Bad posture will therefore not only have an impact on the spine but also on nervous system function. This is why it is important to have children’s spine checked for misalignments by a chiropractor to make sure that they grow straight, strong and that their nervous systems are working optimally.

Here are a few tips to help keep your child’s load in check:

Finding the Right Backpack

1. Buy only lightweight backpacks made from vinyl or canvas.
2. The backpack should be proportionate to the child’s body—you should have your child with you when you shop to ensure it fits properly.
3. Find a backpack with wide, padded shoulder straps as it will help with comfort and weight disbursement.
4. A waist belt or hip strap is essential to anchor the backpack to the body and support the entire load.
5. Choose backpacks with several pockets which allow for even weight distribution
6. Note that the backpack should never fit snugly around the arms and armpits but have enough space to give a comfortable range of motion.

Wearing It Right

While it may seem a little simplistic, training your child how to wear a backpack is essential to preventing problems.

1. Never allow them to carry the backpack on one shoulder. This drastically changes the weight load, forcing the spine to compensate, leading to mid and lower back strain and pain.
2. Always ensure the waist strap is used and worn correctly to help with load stability.
3. Only pack what is needed for that day as unnecessary items can compromise the child’s ability to carry the backpack.
4. When putting on a backpack (you may need to help younger children) make sure the pack is on a flat surface at waist height. Tell your child they should place one strap at a time on their back, squatting or kneeling and lifting with the leg, supporting the back as the load is adjusted.
5. As you start packing, ensure the heaviest items in the bag are the closest ones to the body.
6. Odd and awkward-sized items should be packed on top of or on the “outside” of the heaviest items.
7. Keep in mind that a backpack should never exceed 15% of a child’s weight.

Other related preventative tips (this goes for both kids and adults!):

1. Exercise on a daily basis.
2. Drink plenty of water and eat healthy foods.
3. Get enough sleep on a proper pillow and mattress.

Paying attention to best backpack practices and these general health tips will go along way to helping your child’s spine stay healthy as they enjoy their formative school years and beyond!