If your younger kids are anything like ours, they stuff their backpacks to the brim with not just school books but sports gear, sports shoes, lunch boxes - and what feels like bricks. Lugging around a heavy and bulky backpack can cause back, neck and shoulder pain. With many of our kids walking a considerable distance to and from school - and not to mention between classes - we thought we’d share what good backpack wear looks - and what to avoid.
The weight of your child’s backpack will significantly impact their comfort. According to most guidelines, a backpack should weigh no more than 10% of a child’s body weight if they are walking or cycling to school. This means that if your child is 35kgs, their bag should not weigh more than 3.5kgs. If they get a lift to or from school, this may be increased to up to 15% of their body weight at a maximum.
When the weight is too much, it can change their centre of gravity, and change the way that their joints are loaded, so they may take on more force as they walk. This may leave them more vulnerable to injury, especially if they walk longer distances to, from or even during school hours.
Ideally, a backpack should sit 2-5cm below the top of the shoulders, with the bottom of the pack sitting on or above the top of the hip bones. This helps the back best support the backpack, and helps reduce the likelihood of problems associated with backpack wear.
If you notice your child slumping forwards when walking, the backpack is either the wrong size or it is too heavy.
Choosing either broader straps, or ones with additional padding, will be more comfortable and supportive for your child, helping to distribute the pressure evenly and not ‘dig in’ to their shoulders. Ensure your child knows the importance of not wearing their backpack on just one shoulder, and choose straps that are adjustable, so you can adjust the positioning as your child grows. If the backpack has an extra chest or waist strap, encourage them to use it, but only if it sits comfortably and they do not complain of discomfort.
If you notice red strap marks when your child takes off their backpack, the straps may be too narrow or do not have enough padding or support.
When the heaviest items, like books, are packed closest to the back, the back can do the best job of supporting them. Pack lighter items towards the outside of the bag, and the lightest items in the external pockets.
If you see the backpack slouching down, even if you’ve tried positioning it correctly, it may be incorrectly packed with the heavier items dragging the end of the backpack down..
If you’re about to buy a new backpack, we recommend choosing firm materials that don’t let the bag sag, instead, keeping it close to your child’s back. Some materials are heavier than others, so opt for lighter but durable materials. The straps should be wide and adjustable, and having additional side pockets can also help with heavier items like drink bottles.
If your child is in pain, our team of experienced physiotherapists can help. We can identify any injuries or strains that have developed, as well as help you with your child’s backpack to reduce the likelihood of the problem returning in the future. We stay with you every step of the treatment, working to optimise your child’s health, so they can realise their full potential.