Is your child's backpack causing them pain?

Dr Amanda Pike
Backpacks are a part of kids schooling, so it is important to understand the best way to use it to avoid injuries.

Backpacks are a part of kids schooling, so it is important to understand the best way to use it to avoid injuries.

Worn correctly and with the weight distributed properly, the backpack shouldn’t cause the body any issues. But if worn incorrectly or just swung over one shoulder, students can get a range of neck, shoulder and back injuries.

So first of all, a child should carry no more than 10-15% of their body weight. Anything more than this puts stress on the spine and can strain muscles. The contents of kids backpacks to and from school is getting a bit ridiculous with the inclusion of heavy books, a laptop and charger, and a drink bottle. Making use of the multiple compartments in backpacks can really help reduce the pressure on their backs. Make sure you fill the base and the compartment closest to their spine with the heavy objects and then add the smaller and lighter objects.

You can also teach your child how to stand with their backpack. When it is light, they will be able to get away with some lazy posture, but as soon as you get some kilos in there it will put a lot more stress on their developing bodies.

Get them to stand side ways in front of a mirror with their backpack on. Two key points to check are:

  1. Stand up tall through their back and squeeze their glutes (butt cheeks) together but make sure they don’t just push their hips forward, we don’t want that.
  2. Their shoulders should be down and slightly back (pull their shoulder blades together) and the shoulder straps should be over their collarbones.

Things you want to look for in a good backpack

  1. Thick cushioned straps to avoid cutting into the shoulders
  2. Waist strap to distribute weight through hips rather than just on the shoulders (and then encourage them to wear it when they have a heavy backpack)
  3. Compartments (big ones at the back and small ones at the front to allow the heavier objects near the spine)
  4. Light weight pack if you can to avoid extra weight on your child’s shoulders

Things to encourage your kids to do

  1. Don’t bring all of the big books home on one day, spread it through the week.
  2. Pack the heavy books at the back
  3. Put the backpack over both shoulders, don’t just sling it over one
  4. Pick up the backpack properly, with both hands and bent knees to take the weight with their legs, not their back.

If your child is experiencing continued pain or discomfort with their pack then it might be worth getting a health professional to check the way they are lifting the pack and standing with it on. They might need some treatment to loosen their tight muscles and a few exercises to get their back a bit stronger.

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