Over the years, the backpack has progressed from a trusty textbook transporter to a fashion-forward catch-all for laptops, cellphones, sports equipment and a variety of other stuff. Despite the ever-evolving sizes, shapes and colors, one thing remains the same: if worn incorrectly, backpacks can cause serious, long-term health issues.
It’s seems like a simple concept. Slip your arms through the straps and you are off. How could one possibly wear a backpack incorrectly?
“It is absolutely possible,” says Matthew Halsey, M.D., associate professor of orthopaedics and rehabilitation at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, OHSU School of Medicine. “Placing too much weight in your backpack, wearing a pack that is too big, or only utilizing one strap are all categorized as incorrect usage. This may cause unnecessary muscle strain, back or shoulder pain, curvature of the upper back, poor posture, and in some cases, even circulation issues.”
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 5,000 children younger than 19 had backpack-related injuries last year. To help ensure safe and comfortable backpack wearing habits, families might consider the following:
- The width of a backpack should be equivalent to the width of the child.
- Broad straps with padding are ideal for comfort and proper fit.
- Adjustable straps are important for accurate positioning: “The straps should stay even and the backpack should ride high on the back; if it sinks below the child’s waistline, adjust it higher,” Halsey said.
- Distribute the weight of a backpack evenly. Load the heaviest items closest to the child’s back and always wear both straps.
- The backpack and its contents should not total more than 15 percent of a child’s weight.
To find the right backpack: “Families should bring a few personal items with them to the store so they can slip them into a backpack and estimate the weight and fit,” Halsey said. “Or, if your child is assigned heavy textbooks, request two sets so you can keep one at school and one at home and limit carrying this extra weight back and forth.”