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The Backpack and Your Child's Back Health

School begins a new year, and the one stalwart that stays with our kids seemingly as they advance from grade to grade is the trusty old backpack. And as our kids move through their school year that pack can take some abuse, but so too can the backs of our kids. Toting around books, supplies, and other items from class to class or school to home and back can take a toll on the spinal and muscular system of our kids.

How do we help our kids' backs remain strong and not as influenced by the weight of the backpack? A lot of it has to do with wearing the pack correctly and keeping in mind some critical factors for using them safely to avoid longterm back pain.

1: Wear It Right

It's hard to know what your kids do when your watchful eyes aren't present. But as much as you may feel you are nagging, remind them to wear both straps, not just one. This helps distribute the weight of the pack evenly across both shoulders, and the spine won't have to adjust quite so much from one side to another with the added weight. The offset of the extra weight can cause children to lean and further cause strain. Safest bet is to evenly distribute the added weight across the entire back versus solely one side or another.

Tip: Another key area to not overlook is not wearing the backpack too low on the back. If the straps are loosened causing the bag to sit at the small of the back versus closer to the upper center this too can cause back pain.

2: Don't Overload the Pack

Doctors and physical therapists recommend that kids carry no more than 10% to 15% of their body weight in their packs. But often what we see is our kids carrying the weight of the contents of their lockers on their backs. With this large of a load, our kids will tend to bend at the hips or arch their backs. This then makes the spine compress unnaturally leading to shoulder, neck or back pain.

Tip: If due to their class schedule getting to their locker and then to their next class is too close of a turnaround consider purchasing a roller backpack if they must carry more than the average load during the day.

3. Purchase Packs With Good Strap Width

We are sure in all of the last minute errands before your kids return to school you're really wondering about just how wide their backpack straps are, right? But try and avoid backpacks that have thin straps. When the backpack even has moderate weight placed within it those straps can begin to dig into the shoulders. Wider straps distribute the weight more evenly across the shoulders and reduce the instance of pain.

Tip: Try to find backpacks that are not only well built but also designed with ample padding on the straps! A little goes a long way, but that padding will help keep shoulders from aching through the school year.

4. Take What Only What You Need

It's a regular occurrence that our kids can become accidental sherpas by the second month of school. The gradual accumulation of "backpack stuff" can add up. So have your kids routinely clean out that backpack, no matter how scary the contents have become! The less arbitrary stuff they are carting around, the lighter the load.

Tip: Routinely check bags for added items which are finding their way to school. Even video games, laptops and other things like full water bottles which may not be entirely necessary for school could be making their way into backpacks.

5. Use It Wisely

Most backpacks come with multiple compartments each with various uses. Heavier items like books or binders should go in the largest area closest to the back to better carry the weight, while lighter items like paperbacks or pens or pencils can go on the outside. The better the weight is distributed, the easier it will be to lug around and cause less injury over time.

Tip: Show your kids what each compartment is for so they have a good idea what goes where on their pack. Make it a game to see who can load their packs correctly in the shortest amount of time!