A Quick Guide To Backpack Safety For Children | Breakaway PT
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A Quick Guide To Backpack Safety

Backpack Safety

With school right around the corner, my kids get excited about new school supplies, a back-to-school outfit and always want to look at new backpacks. We then head down the discussion of how many backpacks could one person need, and they try to convince me or their grandma that they need just one more.

Some backpacks are made with excellent quality and last for years, while others barely make it through a school year. It’s crazy how much the kids carry these days to and from school…lunch box, water bottle, text books, band instrument, school computer, books to read and so much more. We are constantly having to clean them out because they are getting too heavy for them to carry.

So, let’s talk about backpacks, what to look for, why it’s important and how it all translates to YOUR child’s health and posture! If you are wanting a FREE posture screen for your little one (or you), send us an email at getbetter@breakawaypt.com to stop by and have one of our experts give you some feedback!

What to Look For in Buying a Backpack:

  • Something that is lightweight as you don’t need any more weight added to what your child needs to carry to school
  • Buy a backpack that is made for kids because the ones made for adults typically are made of heavier materials
  • Multiple compartments – then you can evenly distribute the weight and not have it all be on one side of the body. The mesh on one side is awesome to be able to put a water bottle there to make sure that your child is hydrated throughout their school day 
  • Padded back – this will make sure that nothing is poking out at your child’s back and make it more comfortable to wear
  • Wide and padded straps – these straps can dig into the shoulders causing neck and shoulder pain, if they are not properly padded
  • Waist buckle that you can snap in the front to keep the backpack close to your body
  • Shoulder buckle between the shoulder straps that will help distribute the weight evenly
  • If your backpack stands upright when you put it on the ground, it will be a better shape to wear on your back
  • Reflective material so that your child is easily visible at all times of the day
  • Make sure to buy a backpack that fits your child - Yes, as your child grows, they will need a bigger backpack to make sure that it fits their body properly

Packing Your Bag:

  • Pack all the heavy items low in the bag and towards the center to make it more manageable to carry
  • Check the backpack weekly to make sure that it’s not too heavy for them. Work together to clean it out and cycle different items in and out of the bag (books, games, beads and more for in-door recess)
  • It should weight no more than 15% of your child’s body weight
  • When you pick it up to put it on multiple times each day, make sure to bend your knees to protect your spine

How to Wear Your Backpack:

  • Wear it with BOTH straps - I know it looks cool to wear it on one shoulder, but it’s not cool to injure your back, shoulders, neck and body
  • Make sure your straps are tight so that your backpack is close to your body
  • It should weight no more than 15% of your child’s body weight - It will pull down on your spine when your straps are too loose. This will negatively affect your posture and cause your head to move forwards
  • Snap the buckle around your waist and between your shoulders (if you have them) - This will also help your backpack stay close to your body to protect your spine
  • Your backpack should rest on your back just below your shoulders, but above your waist - If you overload it and it’s too heavy, this will be impossible to make happen without the backpack pulling you over
  • If you must wait a long time for the bus, to leave your classroom or any other wait time, put your backpack down on the ground - No need to weight your body down when it’s not needed
  • If your child is leaning forwards, then their backpack is too heavy - They are doing this to accommodate for the weight behind them worsening their posture

Now if your child is coming home from school and complaining about the following aches and pains, go back to look at their backpack posture!

  • Headaches - Pressure along the shoulders can tighten the muscles that attach to the head causing headaches
  • Neck and shoulder pain - When there is too much pressure put on the shoulders, our muscles will tighten in response and eventually cause pain
  • Forward head posture - Our body is great at compensating to make things work meaning the head will move forwards to more evenly distribute all the weight that we carry
  • Rounded shoulders - Forward head and rounded shoulders go hand in hand to compensate for the weighed down backpack
  • Numbness and tingling in the shoulders or arms - Heavy backpacks will dig into the shoulders causing pain and pushing the head forwards changing their posture. If your child is struggling with aches and pains, check out Pillowise Junior (https://www.breakawaypt.com/pillows-for-kids/) pillows to support their spine while they sleep and get them back to the ideal posture
  • Strained muscles in the back, shoulder and neck - Over time the body will wear down from this pressure and heaviness and can strain our muscles
  • Back pain - If your child is leaning forwards because the backpack is so heavy, this will strain the lower and mid back causing aches and pains
  • Sore hips - Leaning forwards and bending at the hips, instead of standing tall will cause pressure on the hip joints and increased chance for soreness each day
  • Knee pain - If you change your posture, this will translate into changing your walking form and patterns putting extra stress on the knee joints
  • Struggling to get their backpack on and off each day – it’s too heavy!!

What to do if Your Child is in Pain:

  • Assess the situation and see if the backpack weight, fit and more are contributing to the problem - Make some changes and give it a couple of days
  • Have your child take a warm bath to relax their muscles and loosen all the tension in their body
  • Sleep is essential for everyone and especially when you are a child - Kids are growing and their bodies are working hard each day, rest is crucial for them to recover and start the next day refreshed
  • Make sure they are supported with the proper pillow for sleeping, come see us to get them fit for a Pillowise Pillow to protect their spine
  • Make sure they are wearing supportive footwear (https://www.breakawaypt.com/put-some-spring-into-your-step-the-importance-of-good-footwear/) that will protect their feet and give them stability from the ground up
  • Stop waiting for the aches and pains to go away when you can get them real help today! We all drag our feet when it comes to making appointments and taking time out of our busy weeks for things like physical therapy. The longer that you wait, the worse the problem becomes and then the longer that it takes to resolve
  • Come see a physical therapist so that you can learn the proper exercises, stretches, strengthening movements and more to help your kids feel great each day!

One of the biggest things that we see routinely is a such a drastic change in posture at younger and younger ages. With the digital age that is here to stay, kids are hopping on computers, phones, video games and more regularly.

Spending so much time on devices can cause a change in your child’s posture. Even certain sports can negatively affect your posture if you are not doing the proper movements to counterbalance all your sport specific drills.

Try a ½ Foam Roller to Lay on:

  • Take a ½ foam roller and have your child lay on this with it being vertically under their spine. Their head to their bottom should all be on the ½ foam roller. This will allow their spine to be fully supported and in contact with the roller everywhere except under their neck
  • Keep the knees bent and feet firmly planted on the ground while doing this posture exercise
  • Once they are balanced on the ½ foam roller, have them put their arms out to the side as if they are making the letter “T” with their body
  • Allow the arms to relax out to the side and stretch the front of the body
  • Set a timer for 30 seconds and then repeat this 3 times

This is an easy posture exercise that you can have your child complete each night before settling down to bed. It’s also a great one for you to try as the parent and will reset your spine from the day of leaning forwards to complete all your tasks.

If you are looking for more ideas on posture exercises and stretches to help your kids, give us a call at 410-721-6333 or send us an email at getbetter@breakawaypt.com for a FREE consultation to talk more about what is going on.

Good luck finding the best backpack and NOT letting your kids weight it down with too many things getting excited to see all their friends again!

Shaina Clemons

Shaina Clemons

Shaina is the founder and owner of Breakaway Physical Therapy.  She received her Doctorate of Physical Therapy from the University of Maryland Baltimore, along with a Bachelor's degree from Towson University.   Shaina is an Ironman triathlete, with a love of all sports. Exercise is her passion, which plays an important role in both her personal and professional life.  In her free time, Shaina enjoys spending time with her husband and three young children.  Shaina's love of snowboarding led her to her career choice many years ago. 
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