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How to choose a good backpack for your child

Back-to-school season is quickly approaching. The choice of a proper backpack for your child is important to promote your child’s proper development and back health. Here are some principles that should guide you in choosing and using the right backpack.


1/ The structure of the bag

  • Size: The backpack should be proportional to your child’s size: it should not be wider than your child’s back and should no be wider than his shoulders.
  • Shoulder straps: They should be wide at the shoulders and thin under the armpits. Straps should also be adjustable to ensure the bottom of the backpack sit 5 cm above your child’s waist. Avoid narrow shoulder straps that can cause pain and compromise blood circulation.
  • Belt: A belt strap is recommended to ensure the load is distributed evenly across the child’s back.
  • Handle: Backpacks that include a solid handle at the top will ensure safe carrying, as children handle their bags frequently in the classroom or as they move through the school.
  • Comfort: The bag should be padded at the back and shoulder straps for comfort.
  • Pockets: Look for a bag with multiple pockets to help distribute weight.


2/ Loading

An over-packed bag can damage your child’s back. The child should be able to walk with an erect posture and keep her/his hands free. Conversely, if your child must lean forward and support himself/herself on the shoulder straps, the bag is too heavy.


The backpack’s load must not exceed 10% of child’s weight. For example, if your child weights 60-pounds, loaded bag must be a maximum of 6 pounds.

The weight should be distributed across the entire back. You should be able to slide your hand between your child’s back and the bag, once it has been filled. Therefore, the bag must contain only the basic necessities.


3/ Common mistakes to avoid

  • Do not choose a leather bag, as they can be heavier.
  • Avoid rolling bags, since they are heavier to lift when going up or down stairs.
  • Wearing the backpack on one shoulder only is not recommended, as this method does not properly distribute weight and can increase the risk of deformation or injury.


4/ Practical advice

  • Teach your child how to properly distribute the weight in the bag. For example, place heavy books against the child’s back and small objects in the front pockets.
  • Use the school agenda to plan which homework materials your child should bring home.
  • For better weight distribution, do not put your child’s lunch box in her/his backpack; instead, it should be carried by hand.
  • Give your child an empty bottle of water, which he can fill at school.
  • Avoid prolonged stationary positions, which could increase muscle tension and the risk of compression of the intervertebral discs.
  • Practice regular physical activity to promote health and good posture.


For more information, contact an occupational therapists at one of our clinics!

Enjoy returning to school for the new academic year!


By Valérie Godin and Sophie Leduc-Poirier, occupational therapists


Références :

  • Balague, F., Troussier, B., Salaminen, JJ, (1999). Non-specific low back pain in children and adolescents: risk factor.
  • Barkley, HM., Stevenson, JM., (2004). Are Children’s Backpack Weight Limits Enough? A Critical Review of the Relevant Literature.
  • Cardon, G., Balagué, F. (2004). Low back pain prevention’s effects in schoolchildren. What is the evidence?
  • Cottalarorda, J., Rahmani, A., Diop, M., Gautheron, V., Ebermeyer, E., Belli, A., (2003). Influence of school bag carrying on gait kinetics. Journal of pediatric orthopeadics
  • Forjuoh, SN., Lane, BL., Schuchmann, JA., (2003). Percentage of body weight carried by students in their school backpacks ». American journal of physical medicine & rehabilitation
  • Korovessis, P., Koureas, G., Papazisis, Z., (2004). Correlation between backpack weight and way of carrying, sagittal and frontal spinal curvatures, athletic activity, and dorsal and low back pain in schools children and adolescents.
  • Lafiandra, M., Harman, E., (2004). LAFIANDRA M, HARMAN E. The distribution of forces between the upper and lower back during load carriage. Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise
  • Legg, SJ., Cruz, CO., (2004). Effect of single and double strap backpacks on lung function.
  • Mackie, HW., Stevenson, JM., Reid, SA., Legg, SJ., (2005). The effect of simulated school load carriage configurations on shoulder strap tension forces and shoulder interface pressure. 
  • Motmans, RR., Tomlow, S., Vissers, D., (2006). Trunk muscle activity in different modes of carrying schoolbags.
  • Negrini S., Carabalona, R., (2002). Backpacks on! Schoolchildren’s Perceptions of Load, Associations With Back Pain and Factors Determining the Load.
  • Pascoe, DD., Pascoe, DE., Wang, YT., Shim, DM., Klim., CK., (1997). Influence of carrying book bags on gait cycle and posture of youths.
  • Siambanes, D., Martinez, JW., Butler, EW., Haider, T., (2004). Influence of school back packs on adolescent back pain.
Keywords :   backpack, child, school


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