Backpacks are everywhere: pack it light, wear it right!

As autumn descends and we’re heading into October, I see so many elementary school, high school, and University students with back packs. There are a number of important considerations to make when helping ourselves, and our young scholars, purchase and pack book bags…

As autumn descends and we’re heading into October, I see so many elementary school, high school, and University students with back packs. There are a number of important considerations to make when helping our young scholars, purchase and pack book bags.

In fact, up to 50% of young Canadians will suffer at least one episode of back pain during their school years. Not only will these episodes be painful but they can impact enjoyment of leisure and sports activity that are critical to a young person’s life.

Carrying a heavy backpack without proper technique can lead to poor posture, distorted spinal column and over time lead to headaches, muscle strain, neck and arm pain, and if continued, potential nerve damage. While it may look cool, carrying a heavy backpack slung over one shoulder will force the muscles and spine to compensate and can stress structures in the mid and low back.

Start in the store

You don’t need to spend lots of money and by following these tips you can find the right one for the right price:

  • Lightweight materials: canvas and vinyl are better than leather.
  • Wide shoulder straps: two straps are better than one and width is important- 2 inch wide is the magic number to help distribute weight.
  • Try before you buy: make sure the straps fit comfortably and are not too snug around the shoulders and armpits.
  • Proportions: the bag should fit the wearer. The top should not be higher than the top of the shoulder, the bottom should not hang lower than the hip bone.
  • Hip and waist straps are a must: padded straps around the hips/waist can distribute 50-70% of the weight from the shoulders and spine and can reduce stress on the spine, muscles and joints.
  • Pockets and compartments: more are better as they can help distribute weight.

Four children sit side by side with their backpacks nearby.

Everyone has a backpack these days.

Packing tips

If your packing your child’s backpack, pack it with the only the contents needed for that day. Keep in mind that, in general:

  • Weight should be no more than 10-15% of the wearers total body weight.
  • Heavy objects close to the body and lighter away from the body.

Putting it on and wearing it right

Never wear your backpack over one shoulder:

  • Both straps adjusted appropriately so it sits flush and tight to the back.
  • Test the fit by sliding your hand between the backpack and your child’s back. If you can’t slide your hand in, it’s too snug.

DO’s and DON’Ts

So, in summary:

  • DON’T sling to one side
  • DO wear with both straps adjusted snugly
  • DO use the waist strap to reduce strain on the back
  • DON’T carry too low as this can cause your child to lean forward and stress to the low and upper back

If you’re a teacher or want a poster and infographic, download and print this PDF.

Pack it light, wear it right infographic (PDF)

For more information visit our friends at the British Columbia Chiropractic Association:

Backpack Safety

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Posted by Mike Gotuaco

Dr. Mike Gotuaco graduated from Queen’s with dual degrees in Biology and Physical Health Education and went on to complete chiropractic college at the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College. Mike was a high level freestyle snowboarder and spends his free time training, surfing, playing golf, hiking and mountain biking.

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