Backpack Safety: How to Protect Your Child's Posture & Spine Health

September 18 is National Backpack Safety Awareness Day. Follow the tips that follow to keep your child or children healthy and safe. 

With the school year started, many parents are buying school supplies. One item to pay attention to is the quality and size of the back pack you purchase for your child.

Why Backpack Safety is Important

The way a back pack fits and is worn will affect your child’s posture and spine health. When a back pack does not fit well or is too heavy, a child will adjust their posture to carry the load. It is important to have the correct fit for a back pack to keep your child’s posture in a neutral position to decrease stress on the muscles and joints of the neck, shoulders, and spine.

How to Select the Best Backpack for Your Child

  • The proper fit: The backpack should not be wider or longer then the child’s torso. It should not hang more then 3-4” below their waist.
  • Proper support: The backpack should have two padded shoulder straps and a waist or chest strap. The straps need to be adjustable and the straps should be wide to prevent digging into the skin.
  • Look for a backpack with multiple compartments to help distribute the weight evenly.
  • Select a backpack made of light weight material. It is important that the backpack when full does not exceed 10-15 percent of the child’s weight.
  • Choose a backpack that has some reflective material on it.
  • It is best to buy the backpack in person instead of online to be able to check the fit and weight.

How to Develop “Healthy” Backpack Habits

Inspect your child’s backpack daily or at least weekly to remove unneeded items to keep the weight of the back pack in their safe range (no more then 10-15 percent of their body weight).

Load the backpack evenly to distribute the weight across the length of the backpack to have the weight rest on your child’s waist.

Periodically refit the backpack straps to make sure that the straps have not slipped over time or to adjust for the growth of your child Always have the child use two straps. Don’t let them learn bad habits like just carrying the bag over one shoulder.

Posture problems and spinal pain can be avoided by taking these simple steps when choosing and wearing a school back pack.

Lucia Ryan, PT, is a physical therapist at the University of Vermont Medical Center. 

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