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Comment on : Backpack Safety - "What Type of Backpack Should I Get for my Child?"

Backpack Safety - "What Type of Backpack Should I Get for my Child?"

It’s that time of year again, kids going back to school. It is what we like to call the unofficial New Year. It is also around this time of year that many parents ask me, “What type of backpack should I get for my child?” This is a good question and is worth exploring more. According to the scientific journal Spine, 1998, up to 50% of youths experience at least one episode of low back pain by the end of their teen years. The research points to backpacks as one likely cause. So what is a parent to do? As if you don’t have enough on your plate during this busy time, you now need a degree in backpack engineering. In an effort to help in picking a backpack, I’ve provided a few pointers. Follow these general guidelines to help lower your child’s risk of developing an injury.

A good backpack should have padding on the shoulder straps and back. If it doesn’t, the backpack may dig into this area and cause an injury. Ideally, the backpack should have straps that provide clip supports around the waist and chest to better distribute the weight of the pack. Some packs even have straps that can tighten, so as to compress the contents of the pack, making it less bulky. These are a good choice, as I have found that children are being asked to carry bigger and heavier loads each year. Finally, many backpacks designed for children also have reflective strips to make the backpack and child visible to cars in low light – a built-in safety feature that will provide parents with an added sense of security as we head into Fall when nightfall occurs sooner. You can purchase low-cost strips if the brand you have chosen does not have them.

In a perfect world, a backpack should have all of the features listed above with wheels and a telescoping handle. The wheels should solve many of the problems associated with injuries from backpacks. However, these backpacks don’t move very well in the snow and still have to be carried up and down stairs. One of the most common problems with wheeled backpacks is that they are too big to fit in the lockers at school. If possible, we suggest a visit to the school and a test run; this could prove worthwhile and would prevent an unnecessary purchase and inevitable return. These are all necessary considerations when choosing the right back pack for your child.

OK, presuming that you have gone through this painstaking process and have now purchased a backpack, second question we commonly hear is, “How should my child wear the backpack?” According to research by the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation the contents of a child’s backpack should not exceed 15% of the weight of the child. This means a 100 lb child should carry no more than 15 pounds; any more puts the child at risk for injury . The same research showed that ideally it should be closer to 5%. You may realize that this is not much weight. My advice would be to try and find ways to lessen the load. Some texts are available on CD for just this purpose.

Now one question we don’t hear enough but we think is just as important is, “How should our child load the backpack?” When loading the back pack, the heaviest objects should be loaded first so they are closest to the body. You want the bulk of the weight to be as close to your child’s center of gravity as possible. The shoulder, waist, and chest straps should be tightened to fit the pack snuggly to your child. The waist strap should be about 2 inches above the hips and the top of the pack should be just beneath the base of the skull. When your child wears the back pack it should be over both shoulders. You can teach your child proper lifting techniques when putting the bag on as well. Have them bend at the knees and use their legs when lifting.

One last thing to consider is purchasing an additional lightweight backpack and roll it up to fit inside the larger bag. If your school’s locker accommodates the back pack with wheels, have your child park that bag in the locker during the day and carry only those books he / she needs throughout the day.

We hope this article is helpful. No backpack is perfect. Do the best you can and don’t stress. This information is not a substitute for medical advice. Low back pain in children (or adults) can be a sign of more serious conditions and should always be evaluated by a licensed medical professional. If you’d like more information, or have any questions, Dr. Douglas Neiverth can be reached at 609-588-8600 or on the web at