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6 tips for picking the perfect backpack

Posted on by Mary McKinsey, MSPT


Buying a new backpack, or digging last year’s out of the back of the closet, is an annual back-to school ritual. Because a poorly designed or misused backpack can put children of all ages at risk for back injuries, it’s a ritual that should be taken seriously.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that about 24,000 people receive treatment for backpack-related injuries every year. More than 9,000 of those injuries happened to kids between 5 and 18 years of age.

These 6 simple tips from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons and the Pediatric Orthopedic Society of North America can help you avoid the strains, sprains, and posture issues the wrong backpack can cause:

  • Choose a backpack that’s appropriately sized. The bottom of the backpack should sit about 4” above the child’s low back curve.
  • Make sure your child carries no more than 10-15% of his or her body weight. For example, an 80-pound child’s backpack should weigh no more than 12 pounds when filled.
  • Select a backpack with two wide, well-padded shoulder straps and instruct your child to always use both straps so the load stays close to the back.
  • Have your child place heavier items low and toward the center of the backpack.
  • Advise your child to carry only essential items needed for school that day or for homework.
  • Encourage your child to stop at her locker throughout the day to drop off heavier books—not carry material for every subject all day long.

Symptoms to watch for

The muscles in the back are strong—and backpacks are designed to distribute the weight of the load among those muscles. But we’ve all seen kids walking bent over at the waist as they carry a load on their backs, trying to balance the load.

If that’s the picture of your child, run through the checklist above.

In addition, if your child is experiencing numbness or tingling in the arms or legs, it’s likely his or her backpack is too heavy, fits poorly, or the straps are too narrow and tight.

And remember, backpack safety is important throughout the school year—not just the first days back to school.

 | Willow Lakes Outpatient Center

Mary McKinsey, MSPT, is a licensed physical therapist at Lancaster General Health Willow Lakes Outpatient Center. She specializes in neurologic and vestibular care, and enjoys leading people back to the highest level of function possible. Education: Master of Science in Physical Therapy—Misericordia University.

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