Size Matters…Backpacks and your kids

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Summer has come and gone and it’s September again. Time for back to school and back to school shopping. Number one on our shopping list this year is backpacks. The array of styles and sizes is staggering, not to mention prices. My boys are going into grade 2 and grade 3 and although they get a ride to school every day, I pick them up either on my bike or we take public transit. This means they will have their backpacks on their backs for a considerable amount of time. 

As a mom I am concerned about just how heavy their packs are, but as a physio, I am concerned about potential, long term damage to their spines. One study (http://newsroom.ucr.edu/868) reported that 64% of students in grade 7-8 had pain, 41% of them when they carried their backpack and 21% had pain more than 6 months. The researchers found reports of increased pain as the weight of backpacks increased in comparison to the weight of the child. Other research shows that adults with severe back problems often had pain as kids.

Here are my tips on how to choose a backpack for your child whether he is going to preschool or she is off to University.

1. The backpack should be the right size for them.
a. The bottom of the pack should be higher than their bum, landing just above the curve in their low back
b. The straps should be wide and padded and worn on both shouldersImage

2. Choose a well constructed lightweight backpack
a. We looked at an ObusFormR backpack that weighed a ton when it was empty! Obviously we didn’t buy that one.
b. Side pockets can help to distribute the weight more evenly

3. Fill the backpack with the heaviest items closest to your child’s back
a. This helps to keep the heavy items closer to their centre of mass

4. The backpack should not weigh more than 10% of the body weight of a child under 10, and no more than 20% for your teens. (this is my rule, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends that children carry no more than 15 percent to 20 percent)
a. Say your 4 year old starting in JK is 40lbs that means her backpack should not exceed 4lbs. 
b. If your 17 year old is 100lbs, then his back pack can be up to 20lbs

5. Weigh the backpack
a. Throw the pack on a scale and see just how much it weighs
b. My boys have a tendency to collect rocks. This can make for a very heavy pack. We also empty the pack every night so things (aka rocks) don’t accumulate, needlessly adding weight

6. Don’t worry about what they have to bring home. Size matters.
a. At our school the kids get a plastic envelop, called “the mailman” to carry information back and forth from school, i.e. notes from the teacher to me, or notes from me to the teacher. It measures 10×16”. If I get a backpack to fit “the mailman”, my children will need a backpack that is adult size. Instead, we fold the envelop and the papers get crinkled. Oh well. Better to have crinkled notes than a crooked spine

7. Remind older kids to leave heavy items in their locker until they need them
a. In a pinch they could carry some items in their arms to offset the weight in the pack

Image8. The backpack should be easy to get on and off. If not it could be too heavy
a. Be sure they wear both straps on their shoulders
b. When worn incorrectly injuries to the spine can occur and last into adulthood

Size Matters! Getting the right size of back pack for your child is essential to prevent injuries. It is much harder to overload a smaller bag. But even if you do everything right, your child may still complain of a sore neck and/or back. Your pediatrician or a pediatric physiotherapist can assess for minor problems that are treatable and often curable. If there is numbness or tingling in their arms or legs, the pain is severe or is not relieved by adjusting the backpack seek medical attention right away. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, 40% of the 24,000 people treated in the USA for backpack-related injuries in 2012 were kids aged 5-18!

Does your child complain of neck or back pain?

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