THE BLOG
08/30/2013 06:03 pm ET Updated Oct 30, 2013

Does Your Child's Backpack Make the Grade?

It gets stuffed with books, squished at the bottom of a locker, thrown in the corner of a room and buried under dirty laundry. Your backpack gets abused -- but does it abuse you?

It's that time of year again... the kids are back to school (!). When preparing your child for his or her return to classes, all parents make sure their kids have enough pens, pencils and notebooks -- but how many of you carefully choose how they carry them? Improperly worn and poorly-designed backpacks can be a source of back pain, discomfort and injury in our children and teenagers. Studies indicate that backpacks are often overloaded with our kids carrying up to 22 percent of their body weight!

When worn up to 60 minutes per day, it can be understood why the relationship between heavy backpacks and back pain in children is a growing concern. In a 2011 study, the back pain prevalence estimates for children at the ages of 9, 13 and 15, respectively, were 33 percent, 28 percent and 48 percent. Choosing the right backpack and taking the time to load it properly can make a significant difference in preventing injury to our children.

Can backpacks really cause back pain?

In a 2012 study, researchers assessed the backpacks and back health of about 1,400 Spanish students aged 12 to 17. More than 60 percent of them were carrying packs weighing more than 10 percent of their body weight, and almost 1 in 5 had packs that weighted more than 15 percent of their weight.

Of these students, 1 in 4 said they experienced back pain during the school year. Girls responded with greater back pain than boys, and the risk increased with age (most probably from more years lugging the extra weight to and from school).

Back pain most often results when the weight of the backpack drags children backward -- you will notice that they have to lean forward or arch their backs to keep the pack centered. In this position, the bones of the spine as well as the discs between them can become compressed.

How do I choose the right pack for my child?

• Start with a lightweight and durable pack. The total weight carried should be no more than 10 to 12 percent of your total body weight. Calculate the maximum pack weight for your child based on the "10-to-12 rule" and add books to the pack slowly while using a bathroom scale, Get your child familiar with how much their backpack should weigh.
• The shoulder straps should be at least 2 inches wide, padded and adjustable. They should not fit too snugly under the arms. Tight straps can cause tingling and numbness in your child's shoulders, arms and hands -- make sure they know to tell you if they feel these sensations.
• Before you buy: Try the pack on your child! The size should be proportionate to your child's body size and no larger than necessary. The top of the pack should be no higher than the top of the shoulder and the bottom should be no lower than the top of the hip bone.
• Look for a padded back to add comfort.
• A pack with a hip strap or waist belt will help distribute the weight of the pack away from your back to around your hips.

Tips for backpack wearers:

• Readjust your backpack every time you put it on! The weight of the pack, a bouncing bus and then cramming it into a locker can offset that perfect fit.
• Always wear both straps, one on each shoulder. If the pack has a waist belt, clip it around your hips so that the strap is snug, but not tight.
• Most importantly: Don't over-fill your backpack! Use lockers and make frequent trips to keep the load light. Ask your teachers if they have extra copies of books for you to keep at home -- this will decrease the amount of materials that you have to bring back and forth.

Still unsure?

Bring your child and their backpack to your family's chiropractor. At this time of year, both parents and kids come in to see me at Vita for a pack weight and fit evaluation. Does your pack make the grade?

Read more by Shaila Callaghan here.