School backpacks: How to find a safe option for your kid

Posted at 3:04 PM, Aug 03, 2018

Back to school time usually means it's time for a new backpack.

Nowadays there are tons of choices in how kids can lug around their belongings. Rolling backpacks, shoulder sling options, or the traditional two-strap pack. But which one is right for them?

Will it support their back? Stay together through the school year? Does it look good? These are some of the questions parents grapple with in the middle of shopping aisles.

A study by UC San Diego researchers found that children commonly carry about 10 to 20 percent of their body weight in backpacks, which is also the limit recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

UCSD researchers tested the correlation between backpack weight and a child's back pain. They tested a group of 8 children and measured spinal pressure at three different amounts of backpack weight meant to mimic 10, 20, and 30 percent of their weight.

They found that as the weight of the backpack load increases, back pain in children increases and spinal disc height shrinks as lumbar asymmetry grows.

Which brings us back to the original question: How do you make sure a backpack is right for a child? A graphic from the folks at RetailMeNot have outlined how a backpack should rest on a child:

Safety straps

Backpack straps are more important than kids think. Shoulder straps should be wide and padded to help distribute the pack's weight evenly, according to the website Healthy Children. Abdominal straps also help distribute weight across the waist, hips, and back.

It's also recommended not to wear backpacks on only one shoulder, which shifts all that weight and leads to neck and back pain.

Wearing it right

The top of a backpack should sit one to two inches below the top of the shoulders. Also, the pack should not sit more than four inches below the waistline.

The bottom of the backpack should align with the curve of the lower back.

Preventing injury on the go

While at school, its important for kids to be careful while lugging around their backpack. If possible, students should stop by their lockers often to unload any unneeded gear from their backpack. 

If bending down, kids should use both of their knees while wearing a backpack and not bend at the waist.

Learning back-strengthening exercises can also help build up muscles primarily used while carrying weight.

Consult a pediatrician if necessary

Talking with your child's doctor about back health is vital. Speak with your child as well about being vocal about back discomfort. And for parents, don't ignore complaints about back pain.

If may also be worth speaking with school administrators about lightening the load of work carried around or buying separate textbooks to keep at home.

For some suggestions on which backpacks to consider, RetailMeNot has put together a quick list of options.