School Girl with backpack

Backpacks: Pack it Light, Wear it Right

By: Dr. Peggy Malone


It’s the lovely time of year for parents when kids are headed back to school!


It’s also the time of year when back to school supplies are being purchased, including new backpacks.  


As harmless as backpacks may appear, if kids don’t know exactly how to choose, load, lift and wear them – these all-important accessories can be a pain in the back. Literally. Not to mention the neck, head, and shoulders.


The Ontario Chiropractic Association does a public education media campaign every year at this time called ‘Pack it Light, Wear it Right’.  


This program helps to educate parents, students and teachers on how to choose and load a back pack to keep kids safe as they cart their stuff back and forth to and from school.


You may not have ever thought that a backpack could affect your child’s health but carrying a heavy load that is unevenly or improperly distributed can result in poor posture and even distort the spinal column, throwing it out of alignment.


This can cause muscle strain, headaches, back, neck and arm pain, and even nerve damage.


For example, a heavy backpack, carried on one shoulder, (which is how the cool kids often wear their packs) forces the muscles and spine to compensate for the uneven weight. This places stress on the mid and lower back, and may increase the likelihood of back problems later in life.


More than 50 per cent of young people experience at least one episode of lower back pain by their teenage years. 


Research indicates that this could be caused, to a great extent, by improper use of backpacks.

If your child does complain of back pain, numbness or weakness in his or her arms and legs, get help to prevent future problems.


As with most things in good health, prevention is key!

Here are a few pointers to help you help your school age children carry their load comfortably and safely.


Choose the right backpack:


Forget leather! It looks great, but it’s far too heavy. Go for vinyl or canvas. Pick a pack that has two wide, adjustable, padded shoulder straps, along with a hip or waist strap, padded back and plenty

of pockets. 


Make sure the pack fits properly, is not too snug around the arms and under the armpits, and that its size is proportionate to the wearer’s body.


Packing it properly:


They’re not moving out! Make sure your children’s packs contain only what is needed for that day, and that the weight is distributed evenly. 


It’s a good idea to know roughly what each item weighs. The total weight of the filled pack should be no more than 10 to 15 per cent of the wearer’s own body weight. 


Pack the heaviest objects close to the body, and place bumpy or odd-shaped ones on the outside, away from the back.


Putting the backpack on:


It’s a good idea to help young children with this, at least the first few times. Put the pack on a flat surface, at waist height (like the kitchen table). 


Slip on the pack, one shoulder at a time. Then adjust the straps to fit comfortably. Remember when lifting a backpack, or anything, to lift using the arms and legs and to bend at the knees.


The right way to wear a backpack:


Both shoulder straps should be used, and adjusted so that the pack fits snugly to the body, without dangling to the side. 


Back- packs should never be worn over just one shoulder. You should be able to slide your hand between the backpack and your child’s back. The waist strap should also be worn for added stability an to take pressure off of the neck and shoulders.


By following these few simple pointers, you will have kids who are well prepared for school and who are less likely to end up with aches and pains from carrying heavy backpacks.


Happy back to school time!






Dr. Peggy Malone is a Chiropractor and an Athlete who helps other athletes to overcome injury and get back to their sport. Her weekly Television Series 'Living Well" inspires people from all walks of life to take control of their health to be as happy and as healthy as they can be.

A former varsity Basketball and Rugby player, she has since entered the world of endurance athletics where she has completed 2 Ironman Triathlons, 3 Marathons, several Half Marathons and many other Triathlons, Road Races and Off-Road Adventure races of varying distances.

Her own athletic endeavors and injuries have given her valuable insight into working with athletes in her practice for both the care of injuries as well as for the improvement of athletic performance.

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