September might have you thinking of leaves changing color, sweater weather, and apple picking. If you’re a caregiver, you’re probably also thinking about children going back to school, making lunches, and getting everyone to the bus stop on time. One thing you might not think about with children back in school, though, is backpack safety. 

How can a backpack be unsafe? Well, research shows that students who wear backpacks heavier than 15% of their body weight are at risk for postural deviations that develop during childhood, and can last a lifetime. 

This can include forward head posture, rounded shoulders, and gait imbalance. A backpack that’s too heavy or being used incorrectly can also lead to shoulder, back and neck pain, among other symptoms. 

Childrens’ spinal safety is important, and there are several great ways to avoid potential harm from backpacks. 

First, ensure that the backpack is being worn correctly. Wearing both straps over the shoulder distributes weight more evenly, and helps align things symmetrically. It should be worn at the mid-back, where muscles are strongest and can support the most weight. A low backpack can be painful, no matter how “cool” it may look. 

A backpack also shouldn’t be too heavy. A good rule of thumb is to keep the backpack’s weight between 10-15% or less of body weight. Only pack the things that a child will actually need for that day! Another thing to keep in mind is whether the backpack’s weight is proportional to a child’s physical fitness, and whether they are able to carry it for an extended period. 

Finally, when back-to-school shopping, choose a backpack that is ergonomic and has supportive features. The size shouldn’t be too large, as big backpacks invite over-packing. Padded straps and back help reduce pressure on the shoulders. Also, look for multiple compartments to allow easy weight distribution. Finally, extra hip and chest straps are great to further distribute weight across the hips and trunk. 

The wrong backpack can cause pain that’s distracting during class, and can cause long-term effects into adulthood. Keep spinal safety in mind when sending children back to school!