Momsense: How to choose a properly fitting backpack

It’s a shock-absorber. Protector of nerves. Connector of limbs. Facilitator of
fl exibility. The spine plays an important role in almost everything our bodies
do. So when a child lugs around a heavy backpack, or carries that backpack
incorrectly, it can have an impact on the health of the spine.

“A lot of studies have been done looking at the alignment of the spine and
at the fact that if you put a heavy weight on the spine it could actually cause
the spine to become crooked,” says Dr. Kishore Mulpuri, orthopedic surgeon
at B.C. Children’s Hospital and Assistant Professor of Orthopedics at the
University of British Columbia.

Excessive weight of the backpack is not the only issue. An unevenly
distributed load can have ill effects, and many children tend to carry their
backpacks on only one shoulder.

“Either you need to forcibly lift the shoulder carrying the weight or
lean the whole body weight to one side to keep you balanced. Both of these
choices create abnormal stresses,” says Dr. Mulpuri.

What does this mean for parents? Now that back-to-school season is upon
us and many parents are shopping for a new backpack for their child, there
are some factors to consider.

Dr. Mulpuri has some suggestions to lighten up on kids’ backs when
homework gears up this school year.

  • Consider having two sets of certain school supplies, even if it means
    duplication of some items. Some stay at home, others at school. This way
    these items don’t have to add to the daily load.
  • Try a backpack with wheels. For older students who walk or commute to
    school over long distances, this allows them to wheel the backpack for part
    of the trip.

Tyrone Brett, product manager at Mountain Equipment Co-op, suggests
looking for a backpack that will last for multiple purposes over many years.
“Kids are travelling with more electronics and heavier loads, so look for
design and durability.”

Tips for choosing a backpack

Pockets:
If your child is going
to be carrying
electronics, look for
inner sleeves that
don’t go all the way
to the bottom of the
bag so when the
backpack is tossed,
the tablet or laptop
doesn’t strike the
ground. Extra
features like pockets
for water bottles or
pens and pencils, or
even lunch, come in
handy, too.

Size: A basic guideline
is that kids should
carry no more
than 10 percent of
their body weight
on their backs.
Translation: if your
child weighs 80
pounds (36 kg), the
loaded backpack
shouldn’t weigh
more than 8 pounds
(3.6 kg). Load up
the bag and see
how it feels!

Fit: Look for padded
backs and
adjustable straps
for kids’ narrower
shoulders and
hips. A waist
buckle can also
reduce the load
on the lower
back.

Exterior: Go for gender
neutral colours,
like green and
beige (ideal for
hand-me-downs),
and refl ective
panels for nightime safety.

Durability:
Look for sturdy,
solid zippers, as
they tend to take
the most abuse.
Also look for tightly
stitched seams and
washable fabric.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, August/September 2013.

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