Picking out the proper backpack

"Mom, my back hurts!"

That could become a regular complaint from your child as the school year begins, unless you select the proper backpack and teach your child to wear it correctly.

One image from last school year stuck with you all summer—the sight of your 9-year-old son and three friends walking to your minivan after school one afternoon. Two of the boys were bent slightly forward. The other two were leaning to one side. All of them were straining under the weight of overloaded, improperly worn backpacks. The scene was almost comical, but the effects of incorrect backpack usage are no joke.

Overloaded backpacks or backpacks worn in ways that distribute weight unevenly across the shoulders and back can lead to muscle and joint pain, hinder blood circulation and nerve function, and throw posture out of whack. With the new academic year, you have an opportunity to help your student break the cycle of backpack blunders. The process starts during back-to-school shopping.

Finding the Right Fit

Your child needs a new backpack, and probably has some thoughts about color and brand. Allow him or her to choose a book bag that reflects individual style, but ensure it meets safety criteria from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)—two broad, cushioned shoulder bands, a padded back and a waist strap. The product should also be lightweight.

You have a sufficiently safe, “awesomely cool” backpack—mission (half) accomplished. Now, share these tips with your child to ensure the new carrier doesn’t cause pain and aggravation:

Lighten up. Only use backpacks to carry necessary school items. If a textbook isn’t needed for homework, leave it at school. The AAP and the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) recommend children carry no more than 20 percent of their body weight in a backpack.

• Pack precisely. Place the heaviest items in the bottom of the backpack and keep them away from the edges so the weight won’t cause leaning.

Wear it well. High and tight—that’s a simple description of how to properly wear a backpack. With straps looped across both shoulders, tighten the backpack until it hugs the back two inches above the waist.

Finally, welcome back talk—encourage your child to tell you if his or her back hurts. It may mean you need to adjust the backpack or shop for a new one.

Read more about Back-to-School Preparations

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