It’s as inevitable as the school year — kids and their heavy backpacks, weighed down with textbooks, lunch bags, laptops, and every other item that’s essential to their world. But no matter the age of your child, from preschooler to college student, carrying around all that weight on their shoulders can cause lasting damage.
What heavy backpacks do to kids’ bodies
Heavy backpacks place unnecessary strain on children’s bodies, as they can cause spinal compression, spinal misalignment, neck, back, and hip pain, chronic bad posture, and even nerve damage. Regular wear of a too-heavy backpack can also cause kids to become predisposed to spinal degradation. Heavy backpacks can also throw off kids’ balance, making it easier for them to fall — and have all that weight fall on top of them in the process.
You’ll notice if your child’s carrying around too much weight in their pack if they lean forward when they walk — causing bad posture — make audible grunts when putting it on or taking it off, have marks on their shoulders from their straps, or complain about their arms, shoulders, or hands and fingers falling asleep.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that every year, at least 14,000 children are treated to injuries related to heavy backpacks. While the majority of injuries and pain are treatable, they’re also very preventable.
Reduce — and distribute — backpack weight
A backpack shouldn’t be any more than 10% of your child’s body weight — backpacks that weigh more than 15% will force kids to bend forward as they carry them, to compensate for the weight. We know it can be a struggle to monitor the weight of your kids’ backpacks though, so if weight can’t be helped, it should at least be distributed throughout the pack, with heavier items placed towards the back.
And under no circumstances should kids wear their backpacks slung over one shoulder — when we wear things over one shoulder, we cause one to be higher than the other. When our muscles are engaged asymetrically like this, it causes them to compensate for the awkward distribution of weight and can even cause spinal misalignment.
Find the best backpacks with a proper fit
It can be tempting if your child is still actively growing to buy a backpack that they’ll “grow into.” This is one of the worst things you can do — even your littlest students need backpacks that fit them properly, with the right straps in the right places ensuring proper distribution of weight.
The best backpacks come with a waist strap that buckles to redistribute load around your child’s hips and take pressure off their neck and back. Here’s everything you should look for in a backpack:
- Wide, padded shoulder straps — at least three fingers in width — that curve in towards the spine in an “S” shape
- Multiple compartments inside, to encourage your kid to pack heavier items towards the back. Laptop sleeve, for example, should be located in the back.
- The backpack fits the length of your child’s torso, ending a couple of inches below their waist
- A waist strap
Be sure to shop backpacks in store, or return backpacks purchased online if they don’t fit properly. And it may seem impossible, but you can find backpacks that are both functional and fashionable. Dr. Bautch recommends starting at high-end athletic and outdoor stores as they carry stylish, lightweight backpacks with both padded straps and waist straps.
Here are a couple of our favorite lists of recommended backpacks for kids:
- The 7 Best Posture-Saving Backpacks, According to a Chiropractor (New York Magazine)
- 6 Backpacks For Kids That Won’t Hurt Their Backs (Huffington Post Parents)
- Heavy load? Best backpacks for kids (of all ages) (Today)
One last recommendation — encourage your kids to start a habit of cleaning out their backpack at the end of each week. It’ll not only reduce the amount of stuff they carry around in there, but it will also help them develop the healthy habit of prepping and getting organized for their week.