Child & Family Development Child & Family Development

August 25, 2017

Back(pack) to School: tips from a physical therapist 


As the sun sets on summer and the school bells ring once again, Blake Templeton DPT recommends taking time to evaluate your child’s backpack in order to maintain skeletal and muscular health.

  • Carrying a backpack improperly or carrying too much weight can result in excessive and unnatural stress on the developing bones in the neck, shoulders, spine, pelvis, and even work its way down to hips, knees, and feet. Ensuring that backpacks do not cause a burden is quick and easy. 
  • An overloaded backpack will change the child‚Äôs center of gravity, causing the body to tilt backwards. A backpack with an improper fit will cause the body to lean forward, backwards, to the side, or will cause asymmetrical hiking of the shoulders. Your child should be able to stand up straight with their loaded backpack. When selecting a backpack, it is always a good idea to look for a two-strapped backpack with cushioned straps. While messenger bags or other single strap bags might be fun, they cause a one-sided stress on the shoulder resulting in muscle imbalance that can potentially cause asymmetries. Two straps are useless if they are not both being used, so it is important to ensure your child does not just sling their backpack over one shoulder. It is also important to look for a backpack that has extra straps. Although it may take a few extra seconds, fastening chest straps or waist straps can distribute the weight of the backpack throughout multiple regions of the body, reducing the amount of strain on the neck, shoulders, and back.
  • A good rule to go by when evaluating the load of a backpack is that it should not weigh more than 10-15% of a child‚Äôs body weight. This is sometimes unavoidable depending on requirements for carrying books to and from school. If this is the case, ensure that only the necessities are being transported in the backpack and the backpack is packed optimally. This means placing the heavy things, such as text books, in the portion of the backpack closest to your child. If these heavy items are placed in the portions of the backpack that are not snug against your child, you again change the center of gravity and put excessive stress on your child‚Äôs skeleton and muscles. When putting a backpack on, it is important to fasten all of the straps, adjust them for a snug fit, keeping the backpack high and pressed firmly against the length of the child‚Äôs back.

Blake shares: “When I was in school, everyone wore their straps loosened all of the way so their backpacks rested on their low back, bouncing off of their legs with every step— a pediatric PT‚Äôs nightmare. Start a new trend this school year with backpack safety to ensure the muscular and skeletal strength of your child.”