It's almost that time again ... the kids are going back to school! The school supplies are front and center in the stores. And included in the supply list is a backpack to carry it all. Choosing the right backpack, adjusting for the right fit and filling it appropriately are very important to the health of your child's back - at any age. I've included general principles to follow and specific guidelines below for each age range.
General tips to protect young backs:(1)
1. Put BOTH arms in the straps!
2. Center the pack above the waist and below the shoulders. Tighten the straps to keep it in this position.
3. Don't over pack! Keep the weight of the pack at 10-15% of body weight.
Can you see below which backpack is the right size and fit, and which needs attention?
Preschoolers: At this age, children don't need to carry much in their backpack. The pack mainly serves to create good habits for the future. Still it is important to have the right size and fit. If a snack or show & tell item is heavier than usual, have an adult assist.
Grade School: A bigger size will be needed almost every year as they grow. And they normally wear them out during the year anyway. The books will get bigger and heavier, as will the lunches and water bottles. So be aware of these changes through the year and at the beginning of each year. If the pack becomes too heavy, have your child hold some books in the front of them for balance.
Middle School: Wow. Bless them! They will want to look cool more than to protect their backs. Hopefully the trend will continue to use both straps. A little (or more) reminding may be necessary. They will also have lockers to change out heavy books, but may not be used to planning ahead. Plus there's instruments and sports equipment added to the mix. Having them hold similarly weighted objects in each hand, or in front of them while wearing their backpack is ideal.
High School: Bigger and heavier and more. If possible have their heavy books kept at home. The instruments and sports equipment will still go back and forth at times. Hopefully lockers are available. If so, make use of them. All of them.
College: Their habits are all their own. So are their books, devices and computers. If some textbooks are necessary for class, have them look into on-campus lockers. Otherwise, lighten the load by planning ahead each day, or part of the day.
Health concerns: Ask your child if they have experienced tingling or numbness in the hands, elbows or shoulders. This is an early sign that they are carrying too much weight in their pack, or have a postural issue impairing their circulation or nerve function. Never ignore a complaint of back pain. There will be some muscle soreness as the beginning of the school year. However, it should not persist more than a week.(2) If these things happen, consult a Pediatric Physical Therapist.
A pediatric physical therapist can help you with adjusting or recommending a correctly fitting backpack. They can also use a hands on approach to correct imbalances in muscle tightness and weakness as well as set up a movement program for home. This will help your child develop and maintain good posture and strength habits so that they can carry their loads now and into the future. (1)