Backpacks: Finding the right fit

Backpacks come in every color imaginable, vary in size and shape and can be very handy for lugging books and supplies around school.

While they can help students express their own style, sometimes a mountain of book is inevitable and finding the right backpack to hold them without putting stress on a child’s back and body can be tricky.

With school being in session for most area schools, many health officials warn about heavy backpacks leading to problems for children, and students up through the college level.

Jeff Dexter, chiropractor at the Marietta Health and Wellness Center, said backpacks should never go beyond a specific weight.

“A lot of times the standard for backpack weight ranges 10 to 20 percent of the body weight,” he said. “That’s a pretty good number to go by.”

That generally means someone weighing 100 pounds should not have a backpack weighing more than 20 pounds at the maximum.

Backpacks are made to balance weight across the torso, Dexter said.

Holly Damron, physical therapy assistant in the Pediatrics Therapy Department at Marietta Memorial Hospital, said injuries that can be sustained include various kinds of pain.

“(Backpacks) can cause back pain, shoulder pain and neck pain,” she said. “That can also lead to headaches.”

Damron said heavy backpacks can also cause injuries to other children if they are bumped.

“Other injuries (occur) if the backpack is too full,” she said. “Book bags that are too big and heavy on a school bus are difficult to maneuver through the bus and can serve as a tripping hazard.”

Locally, Hibbett Sports sells higher-end backpacks in the $60-to-$90 range.

Manager Elyse Kornmiller said there are important things to consider when purchasing a backpack for back-to-school.

“One of our best backpacks on support is The North Face,” she said. “It’s got ample room to organize and carry (what you need) and it’s built to last.”

She said in addition to dependability, it comes specific to gender.

“It’s how the shoulder straps fall on your shoulders,” she said. “It’s how you carry it, where the weight goes on your back.”

Kornmiller said parents should be aware of what they are really looking for in a backpack.

“With others, you could just be buying the brand (name) and not the support,” she said. “Read the description of the backpack, ask an employee that works (at the store) or do your research before you go out and buy an $80 backpack.”

Damron said things to look for include two wide, padded shoulder straps, a padded back and lightweight material.

“The two wide straps are primarily the No. 1 quality to have in a backpack,” she said.

A lot of the cheaper backpacks can still be properly made and provide the desired support for a child, she said.

“(Expensive bags) are typically bought for a high schooler,” she said. “They don’t necessarily have to have a new book bag every year.”

Kornmiller added that one thing to stay away from is drawstring bags, better known as sackpacks.

“I know a lot of people buy sackpacks,” she said. “Those are not meant to carry several heavy books…(it) can’t hold weight and is not going to support the spine…They are great for gym class or something like that.”

Dexter said parents should keep an eye on their child’s posture.

“If a student puts a backpack on and feels (the need) to lean forward to create a counter balance, the book bag is likely too heavy for that person,” he said.

In addition, Damron said parents should always be on the lookout for warning signs.

“If you notice your child is walking really far bent over or arching their back, or losing their balance (and moving) backwards, you definitely want to reanalyze what’s in the book bag, what can be taken out, what’s a necessity and what’s not,” she said.

“Make sure they utilize their lockers more often and don’t carry every single book they have in their bag.”

Dexter said one way to help avoid posture and back problems is with exercise.

“Get (children) active, get them doing stuff,” he said. “(Exercise will) help strengthen and condition the spine so that a book bag won’t have as much detrimental impact.”