Backpack Basics

Written by: Superior Physical Therapy

"It's the most wonderful time of the year!" Definitely for parents but not the kids. Have you looked at your child standing with their pack back lately? The average weight of a loaded school pack is 19.8 pounds! About 20 million kids are carrying 2x the recommended weight on their spines. No wonder our poor kids look like Quasimodo with their packs on and no wonder we see kids and teens each year complain of back, neck, hip and shoulder pain which is caused by micro trauma due to improper weight and fit of their back packs. This abnormal force is detrimental to growing bones and causes injury to soft tissues including muscles, ligaments, tendons, joints, nerves and blood vessels.

Compressive forces on a growing spine can cause spondylosis (fracture of the vertebra). A child's constantly developing spine experiences the highest rate of growth from ages 10-12 for girls and 13-15 for boys. Their bodies are more susceptible to injury and developing compensations. Experts recommend back packs should be no more then 10-15% of a child's body weight. So a 100# child should have no more than a 10-15# on them. Heavy packs, especially if improperly worn, cause forces pulling a child's body backwards compressing vertebral joints. The student will naturally lean forwards to keep balance which causes the forward head/shoulder posture, compressing the shoulder complex pressing on nerves and blood vessels throwing their entire postural alignment out of whack. Also placing the pack on one shoulder causes asymmetrical loading on that side and strain on the opposite in efforts to compensate. In addition to what we stated above this all can result in changes in gait, balance, and even breathing!

How Do You Choose/Fit a Back Pack for your Child?

  1. Choose the lightest material but also one that is well made with wide shoulder straps, a waist belt to distribute the weight evenly, as well as a good padded back. Wear pack on both shoulders not one side. It should rest on the mid back and not hanging low on the waist of hips.  Put the heaviest items closest to the back.
  2. Properly picking up the load is just as important. Have your child squat keeping back straight facing the pack. Pick it up and put one shoulder in then the other. Not bending over and swinging the load over and around their shoulder.

Sensible Tips to consider:

  1. Ask them to use lockers if possible. Don't procrastinate all week to do assignments where large texts are needed. Get it done and out of the way to lessen weight carried all week.
  2. Ask teachers if they would help out by providing classroom texts so one could be left at home. Many texts are on line now which is great.
  3. Schedule time every so often with your child to clean out their pack you'll be surprised the stuff they accumulate like full water bottles at the bottom!

Consult your PT at Superior Physical Therapy and Sports Rehab if your child is experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above and we would be happy to evaluate/treat and most importantly teach you and your child how to prevent future pain, dysfunction or injury.

Have a Happy and Healthy School Year!
Janet S. Keller, PT
Superior PT and Sports Rehab Spring Ridge