For the past several years we’ve all noticed backpacks getting heavier and heavier, but not in proportions to kids sizes. Backpacks that are too big, too heavy, and not worn properly can have lasting effects on a child’s developing body.

Like the frame of a house, the spine is what keeps our body sturdy and upright. If you put too much weight on this frame while a young body is still developing it could change a child’s posture, compress their spine, and impair growth. The improper use of backpacks can also lead to neck, back, and shoulder pain, headaches, and other spinal discomforts that can lead to chronic conditions as your child gets older.

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A 2010 study from the University of California, San Diego concluded “backpack loads are responsible for a significant amount of back pain in children” and that “a full third of kids 11-14 report experiencing back pain.” To help prevent this common occurrence from getting worse, remember the following tips when choosing a backpack that is as minimally damaging to the spine as possible:

Choose function over fashion. Look for a bag with wide, padded, adjustable straps so it can be properly positioned on the back. Some even have hip straps and a lumbar pillow built in. When these are used it helps distribute part of the weight from the back to the hips.

Make sure the bag fits properly. The person who will be wearing the backpack should try it on to ensure it fits correctly. The backpack should not be too long or too short and should fit against the back. It shouldn’t be too high on the shoulder blades or below the waist, despite what looks “cool.” The lower a backpack hangs, the more weight the shoulders have to carry. In an ideal situation, the backpack should hang two inches above the waist to aid in distributing the weight.

Properly load the bag. In general , the backpack should weigh no more than ten to 15 percent of the child’s total body weight. The heaviest items should rest against the back and should be loaded first. Do what you can to evenly distribute the weight and make sure there is not a lot of excess weight on one particular side. Additionally, try to lighten the load by removing anything extra from the bag. All of those small items can easily add up to unnecessary weight.

Carry the backpack correctly. A backpack should not be slung over one shoulder with one or both straps, worn upside down or left unzipped. The only proper way to wear a backpack is to use both straps—one on each shoulder—with the bag set against the lower back.

Lift the bag properly. When lifting anything of significant weight—and that includes backpacks—remember to bend at the knees and use the legs to lift. Avoid bending and twisting while lifting anything, especially heavy backpacks.

Following these guidelines is the first step in preventing injury that could lead to serious health conditions in our children. Take the time to familiarize yourself with proper backpack usage so you and your child do not suffer from unnecessary pain. If issues do arise, don’t forget that having a proper functioning nervous system is key in healing from injury and resolving chronic conditions. The doctors at The Specific Chiropractic Center are here and can help you. If you have further questions or concerns regarding backpack safety and other health issues contact one of our offices and get the help you need today.