The start of the new school year is right around the corner, and many parents are making their “Back-to-School Checklist.” While not on the top of most lists, special attention needs to be paid to the type of backpack children use, and how they choose to wear it. Dr. Mara Karamitopoulos, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Maimonides Medical Center, explains the “Dos” and “Don’ts” of backpack use. Even adults are guilty of some of these backpack ‘“Don’ts” – so mom and dad should pay attention too!
DON’T Overload the Backpack
“A big part of the problem is the overall weight of the backpack,” explains Dr. Karamitopoulos. “It can lead to back pain in children as young as 2nd or 3rd graders.” If a child has to lean forward when carrying his or her backpack, it is too heavy. Kids compensate by bending forward and arching their back. This unnatural posture compresses the spine and can cause back pain and poor posture. “We recommend that the backpack weigh less than one quarter of the child’s body weight,” notes Dr. Karamitopoulos.
DO Ask Schools about Necessary Books
“When possible, parents should ask schools if they can provide a 2nd set of books – one to keep at home, and one to use in class,” recommends Dr. Karamitopoulos. If this isn’t possible, try encouraging your child to drop off his or her books throughout the day in order to avoid carrying a heavy load. “You can also plan your children’s homework in advance,” suggests Dr. Karamitopoulos, “which could reduce the amount of books a child needs to bring home.” This will also give parents insight into their kids schoolwork and activities.
DON’T Carry a Backpack on One shoulder
Kids prefer to carry their backpack on one shoulder because it’s seen as ‘cool,’ but it can cause back and neck pain. “While there’s a misconception that carrying a backpack on one shoulder will cause scoliosis, it will cause muscle stress and can lead to injury,” asserts Dr. Karamitopoulos. For this reason, messenger bags and one-shoulder backpacks should be avoided altogether.
DO Pick a Bag with Special Features
“The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons suggests that kid’s backpacks include wider straps and have a padded back when possible,” explains Dr. Karamitopoulos. She also notes that parents should pay close attention to the size of the backpack. “Here, bigger is not necessarily better because the bigger the bag, the more likely kids will be to fill it to capacity.” Dr. Karamitopoulos also suggests the use of rolling backpacks; however some schools have banned them, so make sure you find out the school’s policy before purchasing.
DON’T Let the Bag Sag
“Backpacks should fit close to the body and align high on the shoulders,” asserts Dr. Karamitopoulos. Adjust the shoulder straps so that the bag fits snugly when filled, and lands no lower than four inches below the waist. “The straps should be tight, but make sure they don’t restrict movement or dig into your child’s shoulders,” she notes.
DO Strengthen Core and Back
“Building strong, healthy bones and muscles are very important, especially as kids have become less active,” explains Dr. Karamitopoulos. “Finding ways to stretch and keep the stomach and back muscles strong will not only improve a child’s overall physical fitness, but also make carrying a backpack an easier, more pleasant experience.” Try incorporating yoga and light strength training into your child’s daily routine – maybe make it an activity the whole family can enjoy!