The weight of schoolbags used these days is having a huge impact on young spines, especially when combined with improper use. Paying attention to how your child is wearing their backpack can help to prevent back pain (including the neck and shoulders) and issues related to poor posture. It’s never too early or too late to start implementing changes to develop good backpack habits.
Use the following tips to ensure appropriate positioning of your backpack the next time you wear one:
1. Always use both shoulder straps.
It may take a second longer to ensure both shoulder straps are in place, but the practice of only slinging your backpack over one shoulder causes a multitude of issues that are easily avoidable. Despite the ease and ‘stylishness’ of only using one strap, this method of wearing a backpack puts all the pressure on one shoulder, leading to poor posture and pain in the neck, shoulders, and back.
In 2013, researchers reported that even if you switch your backpack from one shoulder to the other, you are still walking off balance, thereby affecting your overall movement and gait pattern, leading to issues in the spine and impacting your posture.
Take the time to use both straps and position the backpack high on the back, where it won't sway with each step and won’t put as much of a strain through your upper body, hips, and core.
2. Position the backpack high on your back
Wearing your back low so that it is on or below the level of the hips can increase the pressure on the shoulders and result in straining in the low back due to the forward lean that is adopted to compensate for the dragging weight.
It is important to adjust the shoulder straps so the backpack is high on your back and the shoulder straps are comfortable on your shoulders. The pack should not extend past your waist—it should ride an inch or more above your hips. It is also important to ensure that the straps are firmly tightened, as loose straps also allow the pack to sway back and forth when you walk, which can be uncomfortable and result in further altered gait and resultant back pain.
If the backpack has a waist strap or chest strap, you should use it. Waist straps help to distribute the weight load to the hips, relieving shoulder pressure. A chest strap helps keep the shoulder straps in place and reduces swaying of the pack.
3. Pack the backpack appropriately
Place the heavier items in the back of the pack - closest to the spine - so that the majority of weight is being carried closer to the body. The back of the pack should also be padded so sharp objects, such as the edges of books, don't poke into the back.
If you’re concerned about how your child is carrying their backpack as they head back to school, come in and one of our friendly chiropractors will perform a complimentary spinal screen and bag position check.
Drzał-grabiec J, Truszczyńska A, Rykała J, Rachwał M, Snela S, Podgórska J. Effect of asymmetrical backpack load on spinal curvature in school children. Work. 2015;51(2):383-8. doi:10.3233/WOR-141981
Hyung EJ, Lee HO, Kwon YJ. Influence of load and carrying method on gait, specifically pelvic movement. J Phys Ther Sci. 2016;28(7):2059–2062. doi:10.1589/jpts.28.2059
Backpack Safety. (2004). https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/at-play/Pages/Backpack-Safety.aspx