Mother walking daughter to school with noticeably heavy backpack

Family Health

How To Choose The Right Back-To-School Backpack To Avoid A Bad Back

Aug 20, 2018

“Mommy, my back hurts.” My daughter looks up at me with her shoulders slumped forward. Sigh. Last week she had a pain in her tummy. The week before, a stinging lip.

As a mom with a flair for the dramatic, I tend to hover somewhere between completely dismissing my kid’s seemingly weekly physical complaints and racing her off to the local emergency ward. I’ve both regretted not getting her ailments checked out sooner and sitting for hours in a germ infested walk-in clinic to get a professional confirmation of a case of a “sore finger.”

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So when my child first said her back hurt, I decided to give it some time. Maybe it would go away like so many other sore things? But it didn’t get better. It hurt her to lie on her back, it was difficult for her to lift her arm up above her shoulder and it was bothering her enough to miss her beloved dance class. It was time for a visit to the doctor.

Flashback to last spring when my kid’s backpack self-destructed two weeks shy of the end of school. Like any frazzled mom at the wrap up of the school year, I was pretty much calling in my duties as I lurched towards the finish line. I hit a local store and bought a cheap backpack in her favourite colour. When the next school year rolled around, she packed it up again and I didn’t give it a second thought.

A year later and a doctor’s visit, an ultrasound, and multiple massage and physio appointments later I’m here to tell you — invest in a quality backpack for your kids.

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Apparently her backpack, at least in part, caused a small tear in her right shoulder. While it’s ok to be bewitched by the pop of turquoise with candy apple red trim and endless compartments, there are other things you should be on the lookout for when purchasing a school backpack.

Here are some tips I’ve learned to help save your child from months of discomfort:

  • Look for backpacks with wide, adjustable straps as these help offset the weight of the bag. The wider they are, the more evenly the weight of the backpack will be distributed across your child’s back. If the backpack comes with a waist strap, all the better.
  • Try and find a lightweight pack with multiple compartments inside so the weight can be spread more evenly.
  • Be careful to not overstuff the backpack. It should be no more than 10 to 15 percent of your child’s overall weight.
  • Make sure you can adjust the straps so the backpack fits close to the upper body of the child. The further it hangs away from the body, the harder it is to balance.
  • If your kid, like mine, is finding their backpack too heavy, invest in one with wheels. This has helped give my daughter’s shoulder a break while she heals. I love to see her roll off to class as if she is racing to the airport to catch a flight.
  • Look into alternatives to hauling a big load to and from school. My daughter’s class last year had tables instead of desks and no lockers. She was expected to take everything home each night including a cello, gym clothes, swimming gear, homework, lunch and occasionally a ukulele. By the end of the year I finally made special arrangements to keep some things at school.

Now after months of physiotherapy, exercises and massage appointments I’m happy to start the new school year off right with a more ergonomic backpack. And my daughter is delighted that I’m now literally off her back.

Article Author Laura Mullin
Laura Mullin

Read more from Laura here.

Laura Mullin is a published playwright and writer and the Co-Artistic Director of the award-winning company, Expect Theatre. She is also the Co-Host and Producer of PlayME, a podcast that transforms plays into audio dramas now on CBC. She has worked in theatre, film, and television and lives in Toronto with her writer/producer husband and pre-teen daughter. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @expectlaura.

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