by | Ask the Doctor

Q:  I am sending my children off to school and realized that we bought a carrying case, like a briefcase, for one of our children instead of a backpack this year.  Is this bad?

A:  We’ve talked on many occasions about the damage a heavy, unwieldy backpack can do to a child’s spine. So, if you are in the market for a backpack, here are some guidelines to keep in mind as you shop:

Just as you want the right size back-to-school shoes, the backpack should be the right size as well. The backpack should cover no more than 75 percent of the length of the back, roughly the space between the shoulder blades and waist. The maximum weight should be no more than 15 percent of the child’s body weight. If the weight of the backpack causes the child to lean forward, it’s too heavy. If necessary, have your child carry one or two books outside the pack.

Look for a backpack that has a waist strap that will keep the bottom of the pack from swinging. Stow sharp objects like pens and pencils safely so they can’t poke through the bag and injure your child or someone else’s. Put the pack on carefully. Your child should face the bag, bend at the knees and check the weight. She should then lift the pack and put it on, one shoulder strap at a time rather than slinging it around.

I have found it advisable when there is consistently a large volume of homework or need to bring many books home on a regular basis to attain a backpack with wheels so that it may be pulled behind the child.  There are some setbacks to this, but it is much friendlier to the spine and neck than having the child manage that weight on the shoulders and back.

In the situation of a briefcase, I would say there is no benefit and a lot of potential risk.  Like wearing a backpack with only one side of the strap or a single strap carrying case, a handheld case is too lopsided in weight distribution and will certainly create imbalance likely leading to problems with the neck or shoulder.  I would avoid this type of case altogether.

Talk with your chiropractor about backpack safety or to understand answers to more specific questions.  Ultimately, if your child does produce symptoms of neck or back pain, a chiropractor is generally a very good place to find safe and effective solutions.

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Voted Best Morgantown Chiropractic Office 2018, 2019, and 2021!