As a chiropractor, this back-to-school season always makes me think about the backpacks kids are carrying as they head back to school. Students often carry backpacks that are too heavy for them or they carry them improperly. It can cause them pain and it can put stress on the many muscles, nerves, and bones of the spine

Researchers say that the jury is still out on whether backpacks cause back injuries or pain that will last into adulthood. But just like with all parts of our body, I believe that if we take the best care of ourselves that we can, we will put the odds in our favor for life-long health.

You encourage your children to brush their teeth. It’s a simple way to put the odds in their favor that they will have healthy teeth and gums and will not have to suffer through major dental reconstructions. Choosing the right backpack and wearing it properly is also a simple way to put the odds in their favor to have a strong spine and central nervous system throughout their lives.

Choose the Right Backpack

When you are looking for a backpack for your child, get one that is properly sized. When they put it on, the bottom of the backpack should rest 2 inches above your child’s waist. The top should rest at the base of their neck.

There are a variety of sizes of backpacks, so have your child try them on until you find one that fits properly. Treat backpack shopping like shoe shopping. Try on different backpacks, walk around the store with it on, see how it feels with a short test run. And just like with shoes, know that you will have to replace them every year or two.

Along with size, look for these features:

  • 2-inch wide padded shoulder straps
  • A padded back
  • Multiple compartments that allow you to put lighter items farther from the body
  • A hip strap or waist belt to help distribute the weight of the backpack

Carry the Backpack Properly

Use both shoulder straps. The shoulder straps distribute the weight evenly which helps your child to stand straight instead of tilting to one side.

It seems like wearing a backpack on only one shoulder is a trend sometimes. But whether your child is trying to be cool or whether it was just faster to pick up one strap, teach them that they will feel better wearing it on two shoulders.

Tighten the shoulder straps. The backpack should not be hanging away from your child’s back. Tighten the straps so that the backpack rests against your child’s back. Again, the bottom should rest 2 inches above their waist and the top should rest at the base of their neck.

Release the Weight

A backpack should only be 10-15% of your child’s body weight. When it is more, your child will start leaning forward as they walk, which throws of their balance and puts more strain on their back.

Start a simple practice of checking the weight together occasionally. That can be part of a once-a-week check in. Start with the full backpack and weigh it, then go through all the compartments and clean out the things that don’t need to be in there any more. Make sure you get all the way to the bottom and clear out the little crushed things that build up there. If your child likes comparisons, weigh the backpack again after the big clean-out to see how much weight you released.

As a side-note, the once-a-week clean out is a good practice for adults as well with both work bags and purses.

You can also encourage your child to release the weight of their backpack by leaving items in their cubby or locker if they don’t need it at home or by leaving items at home if they don’t need them the next day at school. Instead of trying to be prepared for everything, teach them to only carry what they need.

Going back to school is an exciting time. But it’s also a time that we need to be aware of some extra stressors and make sure that we put the odds in our favor and teach our children to do the same.

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