How to Choose The Best Backpack for Your Child

A father and a son standing outside,. The son is wearing a backpack and the father is bending over, comforting him.
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Back-to-school shopping is just around the corner, but before you rush out and buy the cutest backpack off the shelf, keep practicality in mind. Raymund Woo, MD, pediatric orthopedic surgeon at AdventHealth, shares what you need to know when choosing a backpack.

Right Shape and Size

Sure, it's fun to pick a pack that expresses your child's personality from cartoon characters to color to fun designs. It's even more important to choose one that's the right size and shape for their bodies and what they need to carry. So, if you've got younger students, be sure to select a smaller backpack instead of one that's too large.   

Don't Overload It

Many kids involved in afterschool activities carry their backpacks from early morning until late evening. And if they're carrying sports equipment or a laptop, it just adds to that load.

While backpacks are necessary, overweight or improperly fitted ones can cause joint and muscle strain, leading to neck, back and shoulder pain. Children who routinely carry heavy backpacks also may experience circulation or nerve issues, as well as problems with posture.

Preventing and Treating Backpack Injuries

When kids use an overly heavy backpack, they may arch their back or lean forward to compensate for the extra weight, which can cause stress on the spine and lead to various levels of discomfort. 

Tight or weighed-down backpack straps may pose a problem as well, as pressure from the straps can compress the supraclavicular nerve over the top of the shoulder blade, causing pain. 

The most common problems are shoulder, back and neck pain, says Woo. 

Most of these problems are due to overweight, undersized/oversized or poorly designed backpacks, or improper wearing, such as when they sling one strap over their shoulder.

Wear the Pack Correctly

Dr. Woo recommends backpacks with camping-pack type features, such as thick padded shoulder straps, a chest strap, or a hip belt. These help spread the backpack's weight evenly on the shoulders and hips. Be sure to use both straps, and don't sling the pack over one shoulder.

Consider Specific Features or Alternative Bags

If this style isn't appealing, Woo suggests a messenger bag, a rolling backpack, or even using alternate sets of books for home and school to avoid weight-related stress or pain. 

Store the heaviest items laptops, books, binders on the bottom, closest to their back. If they take a water bottle to school, don't fill it until they get to school, to keep the weight down.

Scoliosis Risk: Fact or Fiction?

It's a misconception that overweight backpacks cause scoliosis, a curvature of the spine. According to Dr. Woo, There are no scientific articles that support this notion, and many dispel this theory. So the good news is, you don't need to worry about your children developing the condition from using a heavy backpack. Keep in mind, though, that spinal stress from an overweight backpack can affect your child's posture.

Backpack Buyer's Guide

If you're still not sure if a certain backpack is right for your child, Dr. Woo offers a few basic guidelines to follow: 

  • Always buy a pack that is appropriately sized for your kids.
  • Make sure their backpack doesn't weigh more than 5 to 7 percent of their body weight.
  • Look for brands that offer lifetime guarantees on workmanship, or produce similar packs for backpacking and camping.

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