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Help your child avoid back pain with proper backpack fit and usage

August 22nd, 2011 · No Comments · Article

It’s school time again, and many back-to-school shopping lists include a backpack.  Choosing a pack that’s appropriate for your child, and educating your child on correct usage of the pack can help reduce the chance of injury down the road.  Things to consider include proper fit, proper packing, putting the pack on safely, and wearing the pack correctly.

Proper fit

  • A common mistake is purchasing a pack too large for the child; for many children under 12, or for smaller framed children, a child-sized pack often provides a more comfortable fit.
  • The pack should fit between the top edge of the shoulders and the level of the top of the hip bones.  Have your child try the backpack on.  This allows you to assess how the pack fits, and allows your child to determine if the pack is comfortable.
  • Shoulder straps should be well padded, wider over the shoulder and narrower under the arms.  This helps to prevent obstruction of nerve and blood flow.
  • A hip belt helps to distribute the weight of the pack more evenly.  The belt allows some of the pack’s weight to be taken by the pelvis, taking weight off of the shoulders and neck.
  • For older students carrying heavier packs, look for a pack with padding down the center.
  • Choose a durable yet lightweight backpack.  This will help to keep the total weight of the loaded pack at or under the recommended limit (see below.)


Proper packing

  • Physicians and physical therapists recommend the loaded pack’s weight not exceed 10-15% of the child’s weight.  10% is the guideline for elementary aged children, 15% for junior and high school students.  This means a 70 pound fifth grader should not carry more than 7 pounds, including the weight of the pack.
  • When loading the pack, place heavier items along the back and up top.  This keeps the greater load closer to the body. 
  • Use all the compartments in the pack.  This helps to prevent shifting of items while the pack is being worn.
  • Teach your child to carry only what is necessary, and to periodically clean out the pack. 


Putting on the pack safely/wearing the pack correctly

  • Use this opportunity to teach your child how to lift properly.  Have your child bend at the knees using the stronger leg muscles to bring the pack up to the child’s center of gravity.
  • Loosen the shoulder straps, making it easier to get the pack onto both shoulders without straining, bending, or twisting.  Then retighten the straps once the pack is in place
  • All the above effort will be for not if the pack is then slung and worn over one shoulder.  Use both shoulder straps, and fasten the hip belt.


Signs of improper pack fit/weight/usage:

  • Complaints of pain or aching in the neck, shoulders, or back.
  • Creases or red marks across the shoulders.
  • Tingling in the arms, hands, or fingers.
  • Slumped forward posture.
  • Struggling with putting on/taking off the pack.
  • Signs of excessive exertion while wearing the pack.


If it appears the backpack fit, weight, and usage are correct, and your child continues to experience back pain, have him or her evaluated by your physician or physical therapist.  Other factors may be contributing to the pain including muscular imbalance and/or weakness as well as poor posture.  This is the time to be proactive to ensure your child’s future spinal health.

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Tags: child backpack fit