Back to School - Backpack Safety for your Children

Originally written and posted by the Alberta College and Association of Chiropractors

 The Alberta College and Association of Chiropractors has long been a huge proponent of backpack safety for children.  

That’s why, as the pencils are sharpened, the smell of fresh Velcro litters the air, and your kids come to the realization their summer is coming to an end, we like to highlight the importance of protecting childrens' bodies when it comes to what is considered an essential back-to-school purchase. 

According to a study by the University of California, 61 per cent of school children analyzed had backpacks exceeding 10 per cent of their body weight. Those carrying the heaviest backpacks had a 50 per cent higher risk of back pain. This goes along with the fact that over 50 per cent of Canadian youth will suffer at least one back pain episode during their school years.

Choosing the right backpack, ensuring your child packs it light, and wears it the correct way, can go a long way in preventing them pain, both now and down the road.

Choosing the right backpack

Upon entering the store, your child may flock to the [insert popular kids movie of the summer here] themed backpacks, but it’s important to help them pick their backpack based on substance, not style.

When looking for a back pack you should look for the following things:

  • Choose a bag made of lightweight material, such as vinyl or canvas.
  • Pick a bag that has two wide, adjustable and padded shoulder straps, along with a hip or waist strap, a padded back and plenty of pockets.
  • Ensure the bag is proportionate to body size and no larger than needed. The top of the pack should not extend higher than the top of the shoulder, and the bottom should not fall below the top of the hipbone.
  • Explore other options like bags with wheels and a pull handle for easy rolling.

Packing it with the right weight

The type of backpack your kids are using is key, but the weight your kids are putting in them is of equal importance.

The total weight of the pack should not exceed 10 to 15 per cent of the wearer’s body weight. A typical 10-year-old boy’s weight in Canada is estimated at around 50 lbs. A child this size should only be carrying around 7.5 lbs. maximum.

Also keep in mind that the weight should be distributed within the pack evenly. It’s a good idea to pack the heaviest items close to the body as this reduces the strain because the weight is closer to the body’s own centre of gravity.

Wearing it correctly

It’s important to teach your child the proper way wear their backpack as well. Slinging the backpack over one shoulder can cause stress on the joints and muscles in the mid and lower back. Both shoulder straps should always be used and adjusted so the pack fits snugly against the body. You should be able to slide a hand between the backpack and the wearer’s back.

If you’ve bought a bag with a waist strap, ensure that they do it up as it reduces the strain on the back and transfers some of the load to the hips.

To ensure your child’s back is healthy and strong, consult your chiropractor. They can teach you and your child how to pack, lift and carry a backpack properly to prevent injury.

Keeping Baby Spines Aligned

The importance of spinal health does not occur at the first sign of dysfunction or pain. Events from in- utero onward can have an impact.
In utero, and upon birth our spines have a "c" shape, commonly referred to the "fetal position". It is the rounding posture we held for 9 months, and this curve remains in our thoracic spine (upper back) and sacrum (tailbone). This curve that creates that rounding forward is primary and is also known as a kyphotic curve. The secondary curves, otherwise known as secondary or lordotic curves, occur as we start developing strength in our cervical spine (neck) through holding our head up, and in our lumbar spine (low back) when we start to sit and crawl. Each of these stages of development are important for a strong spine foundation. A lordosis curves in the opposite direction as the upper back, helping to create our upright posture and balance the weight of our body more efficiently. Optimal neurological health is related to optimal spinal curves.
Having spinal alignment checked by a Chiropractor is advised at any age, and starting from birth can help ensure spinal development is occuring as it should, potentially preventing problems from developing down the road. That being said, there is a lot that can be done on a daily basis to promote proper spinal positioning. Below are a few things to watch for:
- Tummy time is essential, to help develop strength and head control.
- Ensure adequate head support in car seats and carriers. Some car seats come with extra neck support, however supplemental cushioning* (as shown in the picture) can also be helpful, especially in the early weeks and months when baby is smaller. This particular neck support offers subtle support behind baby's neck, but more importantly has side supports to prevent the head from tilting back and forth with motion, or once the baby falls asleep.
- Baby carriers are not all created equal. The best I have seen is either using a sling to promote natural baby posture, or the ergobaby (another site I came across had a carrier similar to ergobaby What makes these baby carriers great is they promote the natural shape of baby's legs and hips and has them in a "seated" position with legs forward rather than some carriers that have baby supported in a position where their legs hang straight down, putting pressure on their pelvis and altering hip biomechanics.
- allow milestones to occur in order...sitting before crawling before standing before walking. Each stage contributes not only to spinal development and helps set the stage for future body coordination.
- Probably the most significant stress we are seeing on the spine at an earlier age than ever before, is the impact of digital devices. I am not a parent, and I know for some people eliminating the ipad or phone apps with toddlers and young children is not something you will entertain, however limiting time on these devices, and ensuring they are at eye-level when being used are important considerations for prevention of additional spinal stress, especially to the developing spine. Looking down for long periods of time is stressful on spines of any age, but the earlier this occurs, the more longterm effects it may have.
Prevention will always have a greater impact than responding to crisis at a later date; Health begins with the state of our spine.
For further information on the benefits of Chiropractic care, pediatrics, and wellness go to: or contact me at .
* Pillow was made by a dear friend, Dr. Jana Miceli of Miceli Family Chiropractic here in YYC. Also, thanks to Baby J for posing...I love this girl!