Better Back Health: Guidelines for Backpack Fit
We love backpacks for all the obvious reasons. They offer convenience and help us haul a bunch of stuff. Whether for hiking or back to school, choosing the right backpack, and having it fit well, is important for good health.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, nearly 14,000 U.S. children suffer backpack related injuries annually. A study from Washington University in St. Louis concluded more than 10 percent of children miss out on school activities and / or sports practice due to backpack related back pain.
Choosing the Right Backpack
Great backpack fit requires proper proportions. To choose the right backpack, look for the following:
- The backpack should not be wider than your torso. It should not hang more than four inches below your waist.
- Two, wide-set and well-padded shoulder straps. This helps to distribute weight.
- A backpack that is lightweight. So the material does not weigh you down.
- A padded back helps smooth edges that might otherwise poke you in the back.
- Options you might consider are wheels and straps. Wheels give you the option of rolling. Straps for the waist and chest distribute weight.
How to Fit a Backpack
To help prevent backpack related injuries, we recommend the following steps for a proper fit:
- Ensure the backpack does not weigh more than 10 percent of the wearer’s body weight. For instance, if your child weighs 65 pounds, then the weight of her backpack should not exceed 6.5 pounds.
- Always use both shoulder straps when wearing the backpack. This helps distribute weight evenly.
- Tighten or adjust backpack straps to fit close to the body. This balances the load.
- Pack your backpack with the heaviest items in the bottom, toward the center. This keeps the weight close to your mid back where muscles tend to be strong.
- Light items should be placed at the top of your backpack.
- When possible, reduce the weight of your backpack. Some students carry their lunch boxes by hand. Carrying a heavy book at the front of the body helps too.
Backpack Alternatives for Back Health
Many educators have taken note. Schools are encouraging better backpack health and ergonomics. Many schools offer duplicate books. Students can use one book at home and a second copy of the same book in the classroom. This eliminates the need to carry heavy books to and from school.
The digital world offers advantages too. Students need fewer paper notebooks. They can often submit assignments through online portals.
Tips for Backpack Safety
- Always bend at the knees, rather than the waist, to pick up a backpack.
- If your child walks to school, place reflective tape on his or her backpack.
- Help young children put on their backpacks. This reduces their risk of injury and over stretching.
- Watch children for signs of physical stress. Indicators include leaning forward under the weight of a backpack. Conversely, some children may (over) arch their backs in an effort to rebalance too much weight.
- Do not ignore back pain. See a doctor.
- Ask children or teenagers to tell you about numbness, tingling or discomfort in arms or legs. These symptoms can indicate poor backpack fit. Or, too much weight.
- Talk with school faculty about lightening the backpack load, especially if a plan is not in place.
- If available, encourage your child to use a locker throughout the day. This can help keep backpack weight down.
- If backpack wear is problematic, consider a cross body bag.