As summer rounds into its final lap, parents, children, and university students alike must begin to bounce back into school mode. The transition from the care-free days of summer to school year stress can have kids feeling like the weight of the world is on their shoulders – and it quite literally is. Young children and teenagers are carrying increasingly heavier backpacks and, worse yet, they are carrying them incorrectly. Research continues to show that their young, vulnerable spines are paying the price.  

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, a child’s backpack should be no more than 10-15% of his or her own body weight, with some studies urging for no more than 10%. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Adding insult to injury, most adolescents carry their backpacks in a biomechanically inappropriate way, causing damage to their musculoskeletal systems. Epidemiological studies show that over 50% of Canadian youth will suffer from at least one episode of back pain during their school years. The culprit? Carrying a heavy backpack and, even more so, wearing it improperly. Common complaints related the heavy, poorly fitted backpacks include back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain (they were never meant for heavy loads!), knee pain, and numbness, tingling, and/or weakness in the arms.

There is good news in all of this – it’s preventable. While the size and amount of textbooks are somewhat out of anyone’s control, choosing and properly wearing a backpack is the best and easiest way to prevent injury. The following are tips for optimal backpack usage:

  • Choose a backpack made of a lightweight material, such as vinyl or canvas.
  • Always go for a backpack with two straps and actually use both of them.  The straps should be wide and well padded to help distribute weight evenly.
  • When possible, opt for a bag that also has a waist strap (this will keep the bulk of the weight on the hips, instead of on the vulnerable shoulders).
  • Tighten the straps so that the bottom of the backpack does not fall below the hipbone. Also ensure that the top of the backpack is not higher than the shoulders.
  • Keep the backpack snugly against the back to prevent any strain or load at extreme postures.
  • With the backpack resting on a desk or table, put the backpack on one strap at a time and lift with the knees (instead of a hunched over back).
  • Organize the backpack so that heavier items are at the bottom and in the center. Take advantage of pockets to help distribute weight.

If possible, buy the backpack at a sporting goods store, as employees are trained to know how to properly fit backpacks. Enquire about any back/neck pain or numbness, tingling, or weakness that children may be feeling in the arms; this is a warning sign that a backpack may be being improperly worn. Finally, encourage children to stop at their lockers as often as possible to decrease carrying load. 

The Huffington Post recently published this informative infographic highlighting the importance of proper backpack usage:

If back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, or arm numbness, tingling, or weakness is noted in your school age children, please feel free to contact our office and find out how chiropractic care can help