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Heavy Hauling: Five Tips for a Better Backpack

Back to school means hauling books, papers, lunch, a water bottle, sports gear and usually much more.

“Kids pack their whole lives into their backpacks but that’s really not the best strategy,” said Robert Long, a physical therapist and manager of Rehabilitation Services at Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital. “Most experts recommend that a backpack be no more than 10 to 15 percent of the child’s body weight.”

Picking the right bag can have a big impact on posture and comfort for kids. Long shares what to look for to make sure going to and from school isn’t a pain.

  • The straps are one of the most important features. Look for straps that:
    • Have plenty of padding.
    • Have a horizontal chest strap to help with weight distribution.
    • Are comfortable and easy to adjust to the right fit. Shaped straps may be more comfortable than straight straps.
    • Fit the width of the shoulders.
  • Fit the size of the backpack to the size of the child. The bag should not extend beyond the body on the sides, above the neck or below the waistline.
  • Use both straps when carrying a backpack, and adjust the fit so the load is carried as high and close to the back as possible.
  • Be choosy about what goes in the bag.
  • Maintain good posture when carrying a backpack.

“A backpack that’s too heavy or worn incorrectly can contribute to back problems and reinforce bad posture,” said Long. If your child reports tingling or numbness in the arms or general pain while wearing the backpack, look for a different bag with a better fit.

Long reports that gentle stretching of the arms, shoulders, neck and back can help with pain from carrying a heavy bag.

“If a heavy bag is unavoidable and there is ongoing pain, a physical therapist or your child’s doctor can recommend the right stretches,” said Long.