The Backpack: Dispelling Myths and Finding the Right Fit

At the start of a new school year, every so often I hear a rumor begin to circulate that a heavy, ill-fitting backpack can cause scoliosis. Scoliosis can be described as a condition in which there is a horizontal curvature of the spine, typically occurring during a child’s growth spurt just before puberty. While the cause of most scoliosis cases is unknown, it is generally agreed upon by physicians that the backpack is not a likely culprit.

Now that we’ve put that rumor to rest, there are still many reasons a well-fitting backpack is important. A poor-fitting, ill-constructed, overloaded backpack can cause unnecessary stress and vertical pressure on the shoulders and back taxing core muscles and bowing out the spine, which, in addition to being uncomfortable, can be harmful. Choosing the right backpack may not seem like a difficult task until you hit the store or on-line retailer of your choice and find yourself faced with every size, shape, style, and color imaginable. So what makes for a good fit?

Safe Backpacks for Children

To start, the size of the backpack should be no larger than your child’s actual back- roughly from the outer edges of the shoulder blades for the width and from shoulder line to a few inches below the waistline for the height. Selecting the right size will assist in making sure the weight of the bag is distributed evenly throughout and ensure the straps hit in just the right spot (about half way between the neck and the shoulder joint).

Second, and speaking of straps, you want to choose a bag with two, well-padded straps. When wearing, make sure the straps are nice and tight. This will protect the shoulders and again help to distribute the weight evenly. One-shoulder, or messenger style, bags may look studious but unless your child is packing lightly I wouldn’t recommend them. To the coffee shop with a light laptop perhaps, but not from the house to the school locker hauling every text book imaginable … for that I’d stick with the standard two straps for sure. Finally, try to find a backpack with a padded back panel to cushion the spine. Furthermore, you may also want to find one with a waist strap to further secure the bag keeping it and it’s contents from bumping and jostling around. You may get a not-so-enthusiastic look from your pre-teen, but I’ll let you handle any ensuing style disagreements.

If you start to notice your child complaining of back pain, numbness, or tingling in their arms, there may be an issue. Try repacking the bag, putting the heaviest objects low and in the center, and encourage them to take only what they need for the day. Leave the bowling ball collection at home.

If the fit is correct but it’s a struggle to pick up or they appear to be to be one soft breeze away from toppling over backward, it still might just be too heavy, even without the bowling balls. In this case, you may want to consider a rolling bag in lieu a traditional backpack. They’ll be prepared for school and their next trip to the airport. It’s a win-win.

If you’d like more information, or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Beth Dollinger, click here to find her contact information listed in our provider directory.

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