5 Things to Consider When Purchasing a Backpack for Students
If you’re anything like me growing up, you walked to school. Uphill. Both ways. In the snow.
While I have yet to meet anyone who has truthfully endured such a hardship, one can easily see the students of today struggling under the weight of their own backpacks.
We’re witnessing an alarming trend of young adults developing chronic back-pain, fatigue, and other types of physical stress as a result of carrying too much in their backpacks. Orthopedic Surgeons are reporting students as young as 4th and 5th graders come into their offices as result of back and shoulder pain caused by heavy backpacks.
Students can avoid these issues by managing the weight appropriately or looking into alternatives. If you’re in a position to purchase a backpack or witness a student struggling with the contents of their backpack, here are 5 things to keep in mind:
I. Lugging a heavy backpack around can be harmful to kids
- Make sure your child's backpack weighs no more than 5 to 10 percent of his or her body weight.
- A heavier backpack will cause your child to bend forward in an attempt to support the weight on his or her back, rather than on the shoulders, by the straps. Improperly used backpacks may injure muscles and joints. This can lead to severe back, neck, and shoulder pain, as well as posture problems.
- Although they are linked to posture problems, heavy backpacks do not cause scoliosis. Scoliosis is a sideways curve of the spine that often shows up in children during adolescence.
II. Make sure your student/child is using their backpack in the healthiest and safest way possible
- The backpack should never hang more than four inches below the waistline. A backpack that hangs too low increases the weight on the shoulders, causing your child to lean forward when walking.
- A backpack with individualized compartments helps in positioning the contents most effectively. Make sure that pointy or bulky objects are packed away from the area that will rest on your child's back.
- Children can accidentally “whack” schoolmates with heavy backpacks while walking in crowded hallways. Sometimes the pack falls from a shelf or desk, or trips someone while resting on the floor. A too-heavy pack can throw the wearer off-balance on a staircase.
III. When possible, explore ways to lighten the load
- Talk to your child's teacher. Ask if your child could leave the heaviest books at school, and bring home only lighter hand-out materials or workbooks.
- Urge your child to wear both shoulder straps. Lugging the backpack around by one strap can cause the disproportionate shift of weight to one side, leading to neck and muscle spasms, as well as low-back pain.
- Be sure your school allows students to stop at their lockers throughout the day to drop off or exchange heavier books.
IV. What should you look for when buying a backpack?
- Look for wide padded straps. Non-padded straps are uncomfortable, and can dig into your child's shoulders.
- Watch your child put on or take off the backpack to see if it is a struggle.
- Avoid the sling-style backpack, which has one strap that crosses the chest. "Using a backpack with one strap, not two, puts all the pressure on one shoulder," says William Hennrikus, MD, Chairman of the orthopaedic section of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "It pulls the shoulder down and can cause back, neck, and shoulder pain."
V. Tips for parents/guardians/educators
- Encourage your child or teenager to tell you about numbness, tingling, or discomfort in the arms or legs which may indicate poor backpack fit or too much weight being carried. Do not ignore any back pain in a child or teenager.
- Talk to your school about lightening the load. Team up with other parents to encourage changes.