It’s hard to believe we are saying goodbye to yet another September! The leaves start to hint at that first change in colour, swim season makes way for sweater weather, and the kids returned to school after this year’s (long) summer break. As parents, we start organizing lunch boxes, water bottles, shoes, coats, and this year, masks, to pack into our children’s backpacks to be prepared. Let’s talk backpack safety!

I noticed on my son’s return, how heavy his backpack felt and decided to re-evaluate backpack size and bag components to make sure it wasn’t causing undue stress on his back. I thought it may be helpful to share some of the things we as parents and chiropractors look at here at Oakville Chiropractic Centre, as well as some of the tips from
the Ontario Chiropractic Association’s campaign ‘Pack it light, Wear it Right’.

Wearing it right!

All kids (from Kindergarten to University) want to pick the bag that is aesthetically pleasing and follows the current trend. This could mean Superheroes for some and leather tote bags for others, but did you know that picking the wrong bag can actually cause pain and altered posture? This can include headaches, neck, back and arm pain, and muscle strains simply from the heavy load, imbalanced weight distribution, and carrying style.

To help prevent the onset of these aches and pains—consider selecting a bag in a lightweight material (such as canvas) instead of a heavier alternative like leather. This reduces the amount of weight being carried on a daily basis. If the bag feels heavy at the store before you have even put anything in it, imagine it full. Another thing to look at are the straps. Backpacks are great for daily use as they help to keep the load close to the spine and across both shoulders to help create equal distribution. This is only
helpful if the shoulder straps are broad, well-padded and aren’t digging into your shoulders with wear.

Straps should be fitted close to the body, but not so tight so that the arms or chest are being pinched. It is a bonus if the bag has additional straps at the chest and/or waist to help take some of the load bearing off the back alone. Both straps should always be worn as carrying all the weight over one shoulder can lead to discomfort and postural alterations.

Packing it light!

When packing for a school day, remember to only pack what your child will need and leave the extras at home. If your child has a cubby or locker that they can leave extra clothes for inclement weather, take advantage of that so they aren’t hauling around sweaters, boots, and umbrellas ‘just in case’! It’s helpful to go through their backpack daily to remove any excess (clothes, artwork, garbage)—especially during the winter season when we start piling in the seasonal accessories! When packing, remember to put larger and heavier items in first, closer to the spine and add from there. Bags with additional
compartments, pouches and pockets help to displace the weight on the bag (and in turn on the body) so make use of them! The recommended total weight of the bag and its contents should not exceed roughly 10-15 % of the child’s body weight. To put that into perspective, a 50-pound child should not carry more than 7.5 pounds.

Overall, your child should typically experience no pain or discomfort when carrying their backpack to school, but if they are—take a look at what they are carrying, and how they are carrying it. If after modifications are made, and the aches are still present—feel free to connect with us to see if there are any underlying concerns. We wish your family a safe and happy return to the school year!

Yours in health, Dr. Huggins.

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