The wrong backpack can leave your child in pain - Cape Cod Healthcare

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Published on September 20, 2016

The wrong backpack can leave your child in painThe wrong backpack can leave your child in pain

You wouldn’t send your child to school with shoes that are too small or an ill-fitting jacket. So why would you give them any old backpack?

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, excessively heavy or improperly worn backpacks can injure muscles and joints, and cause poor posture. Fifty-five percent of children carried too much weight in their packs, according to one study done by the American Physical Therapy Association.

Avoiding strained muscles and wrenched backs boils down to two steps:

  1. Buy a good backpack that fits your child
  2. Teach him or her how to properly pick it up and wear it.

“Kids are attracted to the ones with characters on them, but they tend not to last as long,” said physical therapist Joanna Monteiro, who works at Cape Cod Healthcare’s Rehabilitation Services on Attuck’s Way in Hyannis.

“It’s really important not to carry a heavy load while still growing,” she said. “We actually do see some children with back pain from backpacks.”

Monteiro advised buying a quality pack, as well as these other tips for parents:

What to look for when buying a backpack

  • Nylon or similar durable material, with well-made zippers and straps. Avoid cheap plastic, which breaks, nor leather, which is too heavy.
  • The height of the backpack should be no longer than their torso, and the width no more than their body.
  • Padding on the side worn against the back
  • Wide, padded shoulder straps
  • A waist belt
  • Lots of pockets and compartments to distribute the weight being carried
  • Compression straps that tighten the bag around its contents, making them less likely to shift around
  • Reflectors are a plus

While some experts, including the Baylor Health System and Parents magazine, suggest backpacks on wheels as a way to lessen wear and tear on young bodies, Monteiro said some schools forbid them and children still have to carry them up and down stairs.

Proper use of a backpack

So you’ve bought your young child or teen a good backpack. Now it’s time for the talk – on how to properly pick it up and wear it. Those nice padded straps only work well if they’re snugly fitted and used.

Monteiro’s tips:

  • Use both shoulder straps and a waist strap, and make sure they are tightened and not twisted.
  • Don’t overload. The pack should carry no more than 15 percent of the child’s weight.
  • Avoid excess weight by only carrying what’s needed for that day. Parents can help by unloading the bag at the day’s end. Students can use their lockers to store sports equipment and books.
  • Put heaviest items at the bottom of the bag and toward the student’s back.
  • Take the backpack off while waiting for the bus or a ride.
  • Pick up the pack by facing it, which should be close to the body, and bend the knees to use the legs to lift the pack.

“I have huge issues with how children put on their backpacks – they often just heave it over their shoulder,” Monteiro said.

A pack is too heavy or improperly worn when:

  • There is pain when wearing the backpack.
  • There is a change in child’s posture.
  • The child leans forward when carrying pack, meaning shoulder straps are too loose, plus the weight may be too heavy.
  • There is numbness or tingling in arms or legs.
  • There are red marks on shoulders.
  • The child has difficulty picking up the pack.

Her final tip? Keep kids fit and at a healthy weight.

“Backpacks are great and back muscles are strong, so it’s usually not a problem,” she said. “But kids need to get exercise so they have strong backs.”