Health Advice Aaron Kovac

From elementary to college students, many use backpacks to help carry everything from books to food and more throughout the school day, but could those backpacks be putting our children’s bodies in harm’s way? Backpacks can actually be especially taxing on the back, neck and shoulders if worn incorrectly.

Ideally, a person shouldn’t be carrying a bag that is more than 10 percent of his or her body weight. This means a 100-pound child should not be lugging a backpack with more than 10 pounds of school books and supplies. But as schools stick with heavy textbooks and remove lockers and other storage alternatives to accommodate larger class sizes, backpacks can become and remain heavy.

Something to think about — just because the backpack is large enough to carry something doesn’t mean it should be carried. There are times when you need to do your student a favor and lighten the load.

If you have young children, look through their backpacks periodically and take out everything that is absolutely unnecessary. Replace heavy items with a lighter weight solution.

For example, opt for small travel-size options of items like hand sanitizer or sunblock. Unavoidably as the school year goes on, kids start throwing their toys and gadgets into their backpacks indiscriminately and before you know it, the backpack seems heavier than they are.

The heavier the backpack, the more your child will adjust to support this weight, usually by bending forward, straining the back muscles and affecting their developing postural habits.

If your child carries a backpack on one particular shoulder, make sure you have him or her switch shoulders from time to time.

Ideally you will be able to encourage your child to wear it properly, using both straps, one over each shoulder. Avoid purchasing one of the messenger single-strap style bags, as it could create postural imbalances, pain and even headaches down the road.

When picking out a backpack, make sure it fits properly. Does it hang too low? If it’s hanging four or more inches below your child’s waistline, it can cause your child to lean forward while walking in an effort to support the weight. It also simply might be too big for your small child.

Don’t get sucked into the idea that bigger is always better when it comes to backpacks, because the wearer typically ends up packing more in it just because there is space to do so.

Don’t forget to take advantage of the various zippered pouches and compartments that many backpacks have. These little areas can be used to hold various items and help distribute the weight, as opposed to having it all rest on the center back portion of the backpack.

Does your child already suffer from back pain, headaches or have bad posture? Consider backpacks with wheels that could save your child from worsening these already unhealthy conditions. You may just want to avoid having them wear a backpack altogether.

Ultimately, your child’s health is the main concern. It’s easy to overlook something as simple as a backpack, but preventing pain and discomfort for your child is worth a little attention not only in the beginning, but ongoing throughout each school year.

• Dr. Aaron Kovac is a licensed chiropractor and physiotherapist, and owner of Back in Line Family Chiropractic in Ahwatukee Foothills. Reach him at (480) 704-8818 or

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