With back-to-school season in full swing, many parents are concerned about finding the right backpacks. In any given day, children and adolescents carry textbooks, binders, laptops and school lunches – and the weight can add up. A recent study found that students were carrying up to 25 pounds of weight in their backpacks. This is significant because research suggests that backpacks should be no more than 10% of the wearer’s body weight. If a 17-year-old student, for example, weighs an average of 130 pounds, their backpack should only weigh 13 pounds.

While more research is needed, studies show that the incorrect use of school bags may lead to discomfort and changes in posture. It’s important to note that wearing a backpack does not in and of itself lead to back pain. “If a backpack has a reasonable amount of weight in it and fits correctly, children are not wearing it long enough for long-term damage to occur,” says Michael Holmes, Canada Research Chair in Neuromuscular Mechanics and Ergonomics.*

Choosing the right backpack- Here are some items to look for when considering a new backpack:

A waist strap: This distributes weight of the bag more evenly.

Wide, padded shoulder straps: Too much weigh on the shoulders and neck can impair circulation.

A padded back: This protects from oddly shaped objects in the bag.

Compartments: Like a waist strap, compartments distribute weight more evenly.

 Wearing a backpack correctly

Ask yourself the following questions to assess whether a backpack is being worn correctly:

  • Is the backpack reasonably proportional to the size of the person?
  • Does the bottom of the bag sit at waist level?
  • Does the bag weigh more than 10% of the person’s weight?
  • Is the person wearing both shoulder straps?
  • Can the person walk normally with the backpack on, or are they slouched over/breathing heavily?

*Canadian Chiropractic Association/ Canadian Chiropractic Association

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