Backpacks come in all shapes and sizes. When choosing a backpack, your child might run straight for the one that has the coolest colors or the best superheroes emblazoned on the front. But the American Occupational Therapy Association says parents and children should consider more than just aesthetics for this important school-time staple.
“You want to choose a backpack that fits well and is the right size for your child,” said Linda Trosdahl, occupational therapist at Tri-County Health Care. “A backpack that is too heavy or that fits improperly can cause health problems such as back and shoulder pain, tingling in the arms, fatigue, weak muscles and stooped posture.”
Here’s what you should look for in a backpack:
Size: It should not be too large or too small for your child. In general, it should start approximately 2 inches below the shoulder blades and extend to slightly above the hips.
Straps: Your neck and shoulders have many nerves and blood vessels, so generously padded straps promote comfort and improve balance when the backpack is full. Make sure they are adjustable as well.
Hip belt. If you can, choose a backpack that includes hip or chest belts, which lessen the strain on the neck and shoulders.
Fit: Just like when you shop for clothes, it’s important to let your child try on the backpack. This lets you see exactly how it fits.
Now that you’ve selected a backpack, make sure your child is wearing it properly before they walk out the door on their first day of school.
“The way your child wears their backpack is just as important as finding a backpack that fits,” Trosdahl said. “If it isn’t adjusted properly or if they carry it by one strap a majority of the time, it could cause balance issues and strain their muscles.”
Follow these tips for carrying a backpack:
- Don’t wear it slung over one shoulder. Use both straps. Otherwise, it could cause your child’s spine to curve and result in pain.
- The backpack should rest snugly against your child’s back. This is where the adjustable straps come in handy. If it hangs loosely, it could pull them backward and cause muscle strain.
- The bottom of the backpack should never extend farther than four inches below your child’s waist. It should rest in the curve of their lower back.
- A backpack should weigh no more than about 10 percent of a child’s body weight. If it is too heavy, you should determine which supplies could stay at home or if the child could carry any. Another option is a backpack on wheels if the school allows them.
- Heavy items should be loaded close to your child’s back to help with balance. You should also arrange the contents in a way that they won’t slide around inside the backpack.
Keep these tips in mind as you finish up back-to-school shopping in the coming weeks, and enjoy the rest of the summer!