Does Your Child’s Backpack Make the Grade?

Does Your Child’s Backpack Make the Grade?

Does Your Child’s Backpack Make the Grade?

It gets stuffed with books, squished at the bottom of a locker, thrown in the corner of a room and buried under dirty laundry. Your backpack gets abused - but does it abuse you?

Happy New Year, mamas! It’s time for the holiday bliss to transform into the hustle and bustle of back to work and school. When preparing the kids for their return to classes, all parents will make sure that they have enough pens, notebooks and pencils - but how many of you carefully choose how they carry these supplies?

How much does your child’s pack weigh? Carrying a 12-pound backpack to and from school and lifting it 10 times per day for an entire year puts a cumulative load on a child’s spine of 21,600 pounds – or 6 mid-sized cars’ worth of pressure! Improperly worn and poorly designed backpacks can be a source of back pain, discomfort, and injury in our young kids and teens.

Our kids’ backpacks are often overloaded. In a recent study, it was shown that 1 in 5 kids carry backpacks with weights equivalent to more than 15% of their body weight. It is estimated that children aged 9, 13, and 15, will have back pain rates of 33%, 28% and 48% respectively. It appears as though these numbers are rising over time and that girls tend to experience greater rates of back pain than boys. Choosing the right backpack, and taking the time to load it properly, can play a significant role in preventing injury to our children.

Back pain most often results when the weight of the pack drags children backward - you will notice that they have to lean forward or arch their backs to keep the pack centered. In this position, the bones of the spine, as well as the discs that lay between them, can become compressed.

How do I choose the right pack for my child?

  • Start with a lightweight and durable backpack. Bring your child with you when shopping so that you can place it on them to determine if it’s the right size. I know that many parents want to buy one size up so that the pack will last longer, but this is not recommended. The size of the pack should be proportionate to your child’s body size and no larger than necessary. The top of the pack should be no higher than the top of the shoulder and the bottom should be no lower than the top of the hipbone.
  • The shoulder straps should be at least 2 inches wide, padded and adjustable. They should not fit too snugly under the arms. Straps that are too tight can pinch under the arm and cause a decrease of blood and nerve flow leading to numbness and tingling in your child’s shoulders, arms and hands - make sure they know about these sensations so that they can tell you if they are feeling them.
  • Look for a pack with a padded back for extra comfort.
  • A backpack with a hip strap or waist belt will help distribute the weight of the pack away from their back to around their hips.
  • The total weight carried on your child’s back should be no more than 10-12% of their body weight. Calculate the maximum appropriate weight that your child should be carrying based on their current weight and the 10-12% rule. When you have your max number, put the pack on the scale and slowly add books and supplies and watch the numbers rise. Involve your child in this process so that they can get familiar with how much their backpack should weigh.

Tips for Backpack Wearers:

  • Re-adjust your backpack every time you put it on. The weight of the pack, a bouncing bus, and then cramming it into a locker can offset that perfect fit.
  • Always wear both straps - one on each shoulder. If the pack has a waist or chest strap/belt, clip it and pull so that the strap is snug, but not tight.
  • Most importantly: Don’t overfill your backpack! Use lockers and make frequent trips to keep the load light. Ask your teachers if they have extra copies of books or materials for you to keep at home - this will decrease the amount of weight that you have to carry back and forth.

If you are still unsure whether your child’s backpack is making the grade, bring your child and their pack to your family’s chiropractor. Your doctor will check for weight and fit to ensure the safety and health of your child’s spine.


Shaila Callaghan is a prenatal and pediatric chiropractor and the owner of Vita Brain + Body KIDS, where Healthy Moms cardholders can receive an initial exam for $49 ($135 value) and 10% off ongoing appointments. Find out more here: https://gohealthymoms.com/vita-brain-body-kids

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