Injuries related to backpacks account for over 7000 emergency room visits per year. Overly loaded backpacks lead to improper posture, causing pain and damage to the neck and back. There are ways to ensure that your child's backpack is safe.
A backpack is not one size fits all. A smaller child will require a smaller pack. Try the pack on in the store. The bottom of a properly sized backpack should sit at the curve just above the hips and the top should sit just below the most prominent neck bone. Look for well-padded shoulder straps, preferably in a S-shape to take the pressure off of the nerves in the neck and shoulder area. The straps should be easily adjustable to custom fit the pack to the body. Shop for extra features such as a waist or chest strap to keep the load close to the body, and a lumbar pillow to allow for a more natural center of gravity with the pack on. A more expensive bag does not necessarily mean a safer one, as higher end designer bags tend to cater to fads and designs rather than safety.
Proper packing of the book bag is essential, as an improperly packed bag can lead to posture issues, injuries and back pain. The heaviest items should be packed closer to the back and bottom. Make sure that weight is evenly distributed side to side. Take advantage of extra pockets to ensure even weight distribution. A child should carry no more than 10-15% of his body weight. For example, an 80 lb. child should carry no more than 8-12 lbs. Lighten the load by taking nonessential items out. Avoid the urge to buy a large backpack, as a smaller one will limit the amount of un-necessary items a child can pack. Do a test run. Have the child wear the backpack and walk with it on for a few minutes. If they need to lean forward in order to carry the load, the pack is too heavy.
Selecting the proper size, and packing the book bag evenly will be of little value if the backpack is not carried properly. Carrying the book bag over one shoulder is one of the leading causes of back pain from book bags. The shoulder straps should be adjusted so that the bag sits close to the upper back without pinching the shoulders or underarm area. Check to make sure that the load is sitting evenly from side to side. If it isn't, re-adjust the straps. Ensure that the bottom of the bag when fully loaded is sitting at the curve of the spine just above the hips, and that the entire length of the backpack is sitting close to the body. A pack that is too loose will cause the weight to shift backward, forcing the child to lean forward in order to balance the load. Make any adjustments to a lumbar pillow or waist strap if necessary.
Children should be encouraged to visit their locker as often as possible throughout the school day, changing out books so that they are not carrying an un-necessarily heavy load all day long. Remind them frequently not to carry the bag on one shoulder. Backpacks should only be used when walking. Never allow a child to wear a backpack while riding a skateboard or when skating or biking, as the center of balance can shift causing an accident. When fitted and used in the proper manner, a backpack can be a very useful tool.