Neck, shoulder, and back pain are common complaints in Australian kids, and one of the common causes of back and shoulder pain in children is carrying school bags that are far too heavy.1 But there are steps you can take to prevent back pain in kids in the first place. One of the things you can do is choose the right type of backpack for school and ensure it fits well. Keep reading and we’ll teach you how to buy the best backpack for children for when they go back to school.
Tips on choosing a good backpack for children
When purchasing a school backpack, here’s what you should keep in mind:
- The material should be lightweight but firm so that it doesn’t sag. This will ensure the load stays close to your child’s spine.
- The straps of the backpack should be adjustable to allow correct fitting to your child’s body.
- The pack should have strong, padded straps that are worn on both shoulders to distribute the load equally and keep the weight at waist height.
- The backpack should be appropriate for your child’s size. Don’t be tempted to buy a larger pack that they’ll grow into. Children up to 10 years old typically require child-sized packs. Older kids and adolescents can use standard backpacks.
- Your child’s backpack should not weigh more than 10% of their body weight. If your child weighs 35 kg, the maximum pack weight should be 3.5 kg. This can be challenging when trying to pile in lunch, textbooks, binders, and supplies. But studies have shown that backpack loads that are 15% of the child’s body weight or more are associated with an increased risk of musculoskeletal injuries, fatigue, and pain.2
- When choosing a backpack for school, consider purchasing one that’s endorsed by a professional organization such as Sports Medicine Australia or the Australian Physiotherapy Association.
Fitting a backpack for kids
Once you’ve bought the right backpack for your child, you need to make sure it is adjusted to fit properly and packed right to reduce stress on the back and shoulders.
- Place the largest or heaviest books low and near the back so that they’re closest to the child’s spine –make sure the corners of the books aren’t digging into your child’s back, they must be flat against their back so they don’t awkwardly adjust their posture when walking.
- Keep small, loose items in pockets, or load them last, ensuring they are away from the child’s back.
- Adjust the straps so that the backpack sits between the shoulders and the waist. When your child sits down, the backpack should not go beyond the shoulders.
- The backpack should be close to the body with minimum space between the pack and the child’s spine.
- In a properly fitted backpack, the shoulder straps are snug fitting without being too tight. You should be able to comfortably insert a finger between the strap and your child’s shoulder.
- Encourage your child to use the waist strap. This helps anchor the load at waist height and transfers the bulk of the weight to the strong hip bones.
- Do not give in to pressure to buy backpacks with only one shoulder strap. Packs slung over one shoulder put your child at higher risk of injuries.
Signs that a backpack is too heavy for your child
Does your kid grunt when they take their backpack off? Do they have red marks on the shoulders from the straps? Are they complaining of shoulder and back pain? Do they say their arms or fingers fall asleep or get tingling sensations? These are all signs that your child’s backpack may be too heavy.
With super busy lives, kids can feel like they have the weight of the world on their shoulders. But this should not literally be true. The dangers of heavy backpacks are real, and you should ensure your kids wear them safely. Don’t let the improper use of school bags cause back, neck, and shoulder pain or posture problems in your kids. Buy the right backpack for school and make sure it fits properly.
If your child has persistent pain complaints after wearing their school backpack, they should see a doctor or physiotherapist. Feel free to give our experienced team at Rosanna Physio a call on (03) 9457 2336 to discuss further if you have concerns or further questions.
- Better Health Channel. Back pain in children. Available online. Accessed on January 16, 2021. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ConditionsAndTreatments/back-pain-children
- Perrone M, Orr R, Hing W, Milne N, Pope R. The Impact of Backpack Loads on School Children: A Critical Narrative Review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2018;15(11):2529. Published 2018 Nov 12. doi:10.3390/ijerph15112529. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6267109/