With the anticipation of a new school year right around the corner, parents and children are preparing; purchasing books, binders, sports equipment and of course an oversized backpack to fit all of the new gear.

But not too fast, reports Dr. Lindsay Rite, parents and students need to be careful. Excessive loads and improper usage of backpacks amongst students have been linked to an increased prevalence of injuries (e.g. Neck & back pain, headaches, bad posture and nerve injury) in both children and youth.

Research suggests that when students are exposed to carrying backpacks regularly they may experience muscular fatigue and become susceptible to overuse injuries. For young students their muscle development may not be adequate to sustain the unbalanced heavy loads placed on them from poorly worn backpacks.

The “Pack it Light, Wear it Right” campaign lead by the British Columbia Chiropractic Association and its members actively advocates for prevention of such injuries. They state that education is crucial and recommend the following tips for safe and comfortable backpack use for the upcoming school year:

  1. Choose the right backpack: Choose a vinyl or canvas pack that is lightweight. Pick a pack that has plenty of pockets, a padded back surface, two adjustable, padded shoulder straps, and an additional waist and/or chest straps.

  2. Packing it properly: Make sure the pack contains only what is needed for that day with the total weight being no more than 10 to 15 percent of the wearer’s own body weight. Ensure the weight is distributed evenly with the heaviest objects closest to the body.

  3. Putting the backpack on: Put the pack on a flat surface, at waist height. Slip on the pack, one shoulder at a time, then adjust the straps to fit comfortably.

  4. 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 hanging to the side. Backpacks should never be worn over just one shoulder. Waist and chest straps should also be worn to add stability and distribute weight.

“Posture is habit” and improving these habits early is important for young people. Incorrect backpack usage can interfere with proper postural tendencies, additionally so can incorrect desk ergonomics and prolonged use of computer tablets and videogames. Ensure that students are taking short breaks regularly from their desks and handheld electronics, at minimum every 20 minutes, and are participating in daily physical activity. This will aid in prevention of injury amongst students and ensure that they develop healthy habits throughout a crucial period in their development.

Dr. Lindsay Rite, BSc(Hkin), DC
Moveo Sport & Rehabilitation Centre