Looking cool in school is one thing, but when it comes to choosing a backpack, experts say we may be looking in all the wrong places.
“Kids pick their backpack based on how it looks and what’s in style at the moment and I don’t think parents would think of ‘wow it’s really hurting my kids back’,” says Amy Tiu, a physical therapist with Lee Memorial Health System.
Eighty percent of us will experience back pain at some point; turns out our problems may have its roots in elementary school. Amy Tiu and Kimberly Maggert hold doctorates in physical therapy. The pair partnered on research to see how big backpacks affect little backs.
“The study was looking at how low back pain was affected by backpack weight in elementary schools children. A lot of research has been done in older populations but very little with children. So we’re trying to pinpoint when exactly it started and find out how to address that,” says Tiu.
The findings may give parents an education, at the youngest ages children showed changes in posture - stretching unnaturally to counterbalance the heavy weight on their back.
“We saw a lot of compensatory strategies for carrying backpacks. Whether it be leaning to the side or more like a forward lean, extended head and neck. So definitely a lot of posture issues even starting very young,” says Kimberly Maggert, physical therapist with Lee Memorial Health System.
So what’s a parent to do with this knowledge? The answer is simple. Shop around. Look for bags with padded straps and make sure your child is carrying it securely.
“We like to see two straps over the shoulder. We like to se the waist straps if possible. The chest straps to help evenly distribute the weight. The one shoulder method that a lot of kids like can cause a lot more stress on one side of the body vs. the other and also causes compensation of posture,” says Maggert.
You should also consider lightening their load. Backpacks should be no more than 10-15% of body weight. When in doubt, take something out.