Putting the Back, into Back to School: Back Pack Tips for your Child

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With kids back in school now, and the back-to-school madness somewhat calmed down, I thought it would be great to share a few ergonomic and OT tips to help you help your daycare/school age children carry their load comfortably and safely.

Backpacks come in all sizes, colors, fabrics, and shapes and help kids of all ages express their own personal sense of style.

If you are like most parents, you are probably in the habit researching the best products/brands for your child. I know I definitely fall into this category! From strollers and developmental toys, to crayons, shoes, and bento boxes. Of course, you want to make sure it is good quality and will meet the needs the items is set out to.

Same goes for backpacks! There are a few key things that we, as parents, should be mindful of when it comes to choosing the right backpack for our kids.

“A child wearing a backpack incorrectly or that is too heavy can be contributing risk factors for discomfort, fatigue, muscle soreness, and musculoskeletal pain especially in the lower back,” says Karen Jacobs, EdD, OTR/L, CPE

Carrying a heavy load that is unevenly or improperly distributed can result in:

  • poor posture

  • may distort the spinal column

  • could cause muscle strain, headaches, back, neck and arm pain, and even nerve damage.

A heavy backpack, carried incorrectly (ie. on one shoulder or with too much weight), can pull a child backward. To compensate, the child might bend forward at the hips, arch the back, or lean to one side. This can make the spine compress, leading to shoulder, neck, and back pain, placing stress on the back. All of which can lead to back problems later in life…eek!

A backpack with tight, narrow straps that dig into the shoulders can interfere with circulation and nerves, leading to tingling, numbness, and weakness in the arms and hands.

Things to consider when choosing a backpack

  1. Correct Size: Always select a backpack that is the correct size for your child. (that means no gigantic adult sized backpacks dragging on the ground when little children wear them.....little children = little backpacks).

    • Height should be from approximately 2 inches below the shoulder blades to waist level, or slightly above the waist.

  2. Light-weight: Go for either vinyl or canvas, as these are the lightest options.

  3. Wide, Padded Straps: Make sure it has two wide, adjustable, preferably padded shoulder straps, to increase comfort. Wear shoulder straps on BOTH shoulders so the weight is evenly balanced. This helps to make sure the strong core muscles — the back and the abdominal muscles — support the weight of the packs.

  4. Pockets: Multiples pockets will help distribute weight evenly. Load heaviest items closest to the child’s back and any bumpy or awkwardly shaped items in the pockets.

  5. Hip/Waist Belt: If the backpack has one, use it! It will help improve balance and take some strain off sensitive neck and shoulder muscles.

  6. BackPack With Wheels: If the backpack is still too heavy for the child, consider one with wheels.

No more than 10% of child's body weight. If it weighs more, determine what supplies can stay at home or at school each day to lessen the load.

I love the AOTA’s BackPack Awareness slogan:

“Pack it LIGHT, wear it RIGHT”

Backpacks and back health are just a few of the things to think about as your child continues on their school journey. Join the Play & Bloom Community to stay up-to-date with the latest OT tips and tricks on the P&B Buzz!

* Reference: American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) - www.aota.org