Back to School Book Bag Safety

As we start the new school year, I’ve been asked often about what makes a book bag and ideal one.  This answer is always twofold, a book bag’s construction is important, but so is the manner in which it’s worn.  In other words, a good book bag can only take you so far if it’s being worn improperly.

So, let’s start with what makes a book bag a good one:

1. Look for backpacks with wide, padded shoulder straps. Narrow straps dig painfully into shoulders and can hinder circulation, causing numbness or tingling in the arms, which over time may cause weakness in the hands. Padded shoulder straps help absorb the load.

2. Look for backpacks with “S” shaped shoulder straps, which will contour to your child’s body.
3. Consider the weight of the backpack when empty. For example, a canvas backpack will be lighter weight than leather.
4. Look for backpacks with a waist or chest strap. This will help keep the load close to the body and help maintain proper balance.
5. Look for backpacks with a backpack with a built in back support.
6. Look for backpacks with a lumbar pillow.
7. Make sure the backpack is not too heavy.  Even when worn properly with both straps, leaning forward to compensate for this extra weight can affect the natural curve in the lumbar, or lower back region. Extra weight may cause a rounding of the shoulders and an increased curve in the thoracic, or upper back region. As a result, the student may experience back, shoulder and neck pain. A good rule to follow is to carry no more than 10-15% of one’s body weight.
8. Consider purchasing a backpack with wheels.


Using your book bag properly entails the following steps:


1.  Wear both shoulder straps. Slinging a backpack over one shoulder causes a person to lean to one side to compensate for the uneven weight, curving the spine. Over time, this can cause lower and upper back pain, strained shoulders and neck, and even functional scoliosis, or curvature of the spine. Teenage girls are especially susceptible to scoliosis.

2.  Distribute weight evenly across your back. The more spread out a load is, the less strain it puts on any one part of your body. Load pack so the heaviest items are right next to your back.
3.  Snug shoulder straps so the pack fits close to the upper part of your back. The further a backpack’s load is from your back, the more it pulls you backward and strains muscles between your shoulders.
4.  Use the waist belt, and side/chest straps. Keep the load close to your body. Keeping the pack close to your hips also shifts “work” to your legs.
5.  The bottom should rest in the curve of your lower back and the top touch just below the big knob on your neck.
6.  Neatly pack your backpack, and try to keep items in place.
7.  Try to make frequent trips to your locker, between classes, to replace books.

Wearing the right book bag in the proper manner can prevent possible spinal issues that may affect your children now and in the future.  Feel free to stop by our office to have your child’s book bag evaluated by us.  We’d be more than happy to help you and your child prevent future spinal problems.


Yours in health,

Dr. Kristin Nuccio Smith, DC


Source: Pistolese, R. “Book Bags: What Every Parent Should Know” I.C.P.A. Newsletter November/December 2000