It’s that time of year again: the kiddos are back in school. I’ve been hearing from several of my patients that students won’t be getting lockers this year to promote social distancing. That means students will have to carry their books around with them. So what about those backpacks? Needless to say, they are going to be quite full! Improperly fitted and heavy backpacks place abnormal forces on the spine which distort the natural curves of our spine and can cause pain in the back, shoulders, and neck. So here are some tips for properly fitting your students’ backpacks and preventing injuries.
1) The backpack should not be wider than the students’ torso, should not hang down more than four inches below their waist, and be about two inches below their shoulders (they should be able to sit down and not have the backpack ride up above their shoulders).
2) The total weight of the filled backpack that your students carry should not be more than 10% of their body weight. Trolley backpacks should be no more than 20% of their weight. (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0003687019300821?via%3Dihub)
3) Padded shoulder straps can help protect from digging into your students’ shoulders. A padded back portion can help items from poking their back as well.
4) Waist and chest straps can help distribute weight more evenly across your students’ back and help put some of the weight through the pelvis instead of the spine.
5) Compression straps on the bag can help stabilize the contents of the backpack and keep it from sagging or dangling down too much.
6) When carrying the backpack, use both straps. If only one strap is used, all the weight of the backpack is shifted onto one side of the body and can cause muscle strains and postural issues.
7) Make sure the shoulder straps are fit snugly so the backpack isn’t dangling. It should be close to the students’ backs. If it is not, abnormal stress is put through the spine and can cause misalignment over time. You should be able to easily fit a finger under the strap though, don’t make them too tight.
8) You don’t necessarily need the backpack with the most space. This will encourage students to over pack. Pack smarter instead. Take only what is absolutely necessary that day.
9) Teach your students to put the heaviest items closest to their back and towards the bottom. Then add in other items to distribute the load more evenly. Extra compartments and pockets can be handy for this.
10) Teach your students to bend their knees when picking up the backpack from the floor. This will help protect their spine and teach them to use their legs for lifting instead.
Author: Chelsea Moehlenbrock, DPT