backpack safety amarillo, amarillo backpack, back to school, how to use backpack properly

Backpack Safety Parents MUST Be Aware Of

Chiropractor in Amarillo weighs in: Just because they’re kids doesn’t mean they're  invincible

This is a challenging time for kids (and parents and teachers) to be returning to school. While we desperately want and hope for a return to normal for our children, the truth is that it will be anything but normal this year. Due to the ongoing COVID pandemic, school will likely look very different this year. 

What will be the same, and worse in some schools, is the use of backpacks. I say ‘worse’ because, in some schools, lockers will not be assigned this year. This means even more stuff gets piled and pushed into a backpack to be carried around all day long. That is why it is imperative for parents to understand the best ways to go about instructing their kids on the use of backpacks. 

Before the pandemic, 96% of kids ages 8-12 carry backpacks throughout the day at school. It is estimated that up to 1/3 of those children carry them improperly. As previously mentioned, that 96% number is likely even higher this year due to the unavailable lockers. 

This means that over 1/3 of kids are likely carrying them improperly all day every day at a time when their little bodies are still growing, adapting to outside forces, and maturing. All at the same time. 

Did You Know?

Did you know that children suffer from back pain too? Of course, not on the scale that adults suffer from back pain but children are not invincible. They experience the strains and stresses of normal life as well. It is natural to have a feeling that kids are good to go but that just is not true. 

Not only are kids susceptible to pains as they are maturing, but they are also known for developing bad habits early on and maintaining those habits as they grow into mature adults. This holds true for a score of bad habits but most notably in recent years is their ‘text neck’ position the kids have made so famous. Not to mention the array of other postures they adopt when interacting with electronic devices. 

Get To The Point

Getting more to the point, your kids are in the process of growing and still developing. That means, as mentioned, adapting to outside forces as well. They suffer from aches and pains as a result and parents should not make light of it. Kids need to visit chiropractors periodically as well. 

Part of it all is making sure these kids are carrying and using their backpacks correctly as they can literally be the biggest instigator of pain in children. 

Here are some general rules and guidelines you can print out, cut out, and paste on your refrigerator as a reminder each day when they head off to school. 

  1. A bigger backpack is not a better backpack - when you buy a bigger house, you just get more stuff to put in it. If you ladies get a bigger purse, you usually get more stuff to put into it so now you also have a heavier purse. It should be large enough to carry the essential but no bigger than that.
  2. No heavier than 15% of the bodyweight - Weight is the most concerning aspect of carrying things around all day. It is the key factor delivering stress to the child on a day to day basis. For a kid that weighs 150 lbs., the backpack should be no heavier than 22.5 lbs. For a child weighing 100 lbs., it cannot be any heavier than 15 lbs. If you are mathematically challenged, simply enter your child’s weight into a calculator and then multiply their weight by 0.15 to get the weight the backpack should not exceed. Super simple and it is our duty as parents to monitor through the year as we know kids like to add stuff to those backpacks without mentioning it to us. 
  3. Heavy backpacks cause a forward lean - When the backpack is overloaded, it has a tendency to pull down on the shoulders. In response, children commonly adopt a posture of bending forward to carry more of the weight on their backs in an effort to compensate and reduce the strain on their shoulder(s). This is not a good scenario in biomechanical terms. It puts a good amount of strain on low back discs not to mention other issues like muscle imbalance and muscle strain. 
  4. Get the double-wide - The width of shoulder straps is definitely worth talking about. Thin shoulder straps dig into a child’s shoulders and can literally, ultimately cause nerve or circulatory issues. Wide straps are less likely to cause these types of issues. That and recall, no heavier than 15% of the child’s body weight!!
  5. Tighten the straps - Tightening the straps makes the bag hang closer to the child’s body keeping it from swinging around and placing odd and unbalanced stresses on the body.
  6. No low hangers - Do not allow the bottom of the bag to hang lower than four inches below the child’s beltline. Low hanging bags can cause the child to develop a forward-leaning posture. That leads to increased stress and strain on the low back and there is just no logical reason for it in the first place.
  7. Use BOTH straps - Using both straps when carrying the backpack is key. When they only use one strap over one shoulder, the weight is carried only on the one side rather than distributing the load evenly across the body. This causes the kiddo to lean the other way in an effort to compensate. Biomechanically, this is a bad idea. Certainly when this scenario repeats itself day in and day out for months on end. 
  8. Adjustable straps should be used - They allow the parent to more effectively fit the bag to the child keeping the bottom of the bag at or above the beltline and held closer and tighter to the body for a good fit. 

They’re not griping

Let us assume your child is not fussing about their backpack. In fact, it is just the opposite. They are packing more and more stuff into it and not telling you. How can you identify problems on your own without them mentioning anything?

  1. The struggle is real - When you see the kiddo struggling a bit to pick the backpack up and get it on their shoulder(s) then you know the bag is clearly too heavy. 
  2. Forward lean - As mentioned previously, in an attempt to take the pressure off of the shoulders and carry more of the weight on the back itself, children commonly adopt a forward-leaning posture. This is another clear sign that the bag is too heavy!
  3. OK, maybe they’re griping - If your child does start complaining of neck and/or back pain unrelated to any activity such as sports or some traumatic event, then it is likely due to the backpack and attention should be given to its proper use. 

Backpack safety is really easy once it is explained and you start to think about it. Unfortunately, not all parents know the basics. For that reason, I want to ask you to share this information with your friends that have kids carrying backpacks around all day. That way we can be sure kids are doing backpacks the right way this year!

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Dr. Jeff Williams, DC, FIANM is a Fellowship-trained Neuromusculoskeletal specialist and chiropractor in Amarillo, TX. As an Amarillo chiropractor, Dr. Williams treats chronic pain, disc pain, low back pain, neck pain, whiplash injuries, and more. Dr. Williams is also the host of The Chiropractic Forward Podcast. Through the podcast, Dr. Williams teaches fellow chiropractors and advocates weekly for evidence-based, patient-centered practice through current and relevant research. If you have any questions for Dr. Williams, feel free to email at [email protected]

 Learn more about Dr. Williams and his practice at https://www.amarillochiropractor.com. Dr. Williams's full-time Amarillo chiropractic practice is Creek Stone Integrated Care at 3501 SW 45th St., Ste. T, Amarillo, TX 79109