Backpacks: Beyond Looking Good

Erin Dunlop
Spokane Coeur d' Alene Living
September 01, 2008

“I want Batman this year!”

“Mom, can I have the pink one with Hannah Montana?”

At stores throughout the Inland Northwest, moms and dads are hearing these pleas – including myself as the parent of a kindergartener this year. As we enter another school year, students are shopping for new school supplies, and a new backpack is often top on that shopping list. Having the right backpack is an important right of passage for many kids but having a properly fitting backpack is even more important.

Along with what color, character and style to choose, there are several other things parents should keep in mind while helping their child pick out the perfect backpack for the new school year – things that will keep kids’ backs safe now and protect them for the future.

As a physical therapist, I have learned that while backpacks are one of the most convenient ways to carry books and school supplies, an overloaded and/or improperly worn backpack can put children at increased risk of back or neck pain.

Tips to prevent injury (see diagram):

  • Wear both straps
  • Remove and put on backpacks carefully
  • Wear the backpack over the strongest mid-back muscles
  • Lighten the load
    • Keep the load at 10-15% or less of the student’s bodyweight
    • Organize the contents of the backpack by placing the heaviest items closest to the back
  • Select a backpack with design features that enhance safety and comfort: a padded back, hip and chest belts and multiple compartments to distribute the weight

Warning signs that the backpack is too heavy:

  • Change in posture when wearing the backpack
  • Struggling when putting on or taking off the backpack
  • Pain when wearing the backpack
  • Tingling or numbness in arms and legs (mostly arms), or red marks on the shoulders

We see patients of all ages with back injuries. Students who are improperly carrying their backpack, or carrying a backpack that is too heavy or overloaded, can often lead to these type of injuries in even the youngest patients. By planning ahead and keeping an eye on your child’s backpack, you can help protect them now and in the future.

Erin Dunlop is an outpatient physical therapist at St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute North Clinic at the Northpointe Medical Center at 9631 N. Nevada in Spokane. Erin’s experience includes acute, sub-acute and outpatient therapy. She is an Orthopedic Certified Specialist (OCS) and has specialized knowledge in the treatment of orthopedic injuries including neck, back, and shoulder diagnoses.

St. Luke's Rehabilitation Institute
711 S. Cowley St.
Spokane, WA 99202-1330

Inpatient Information: (509) 473-6058
Outpatient Information: (509) 473-6869