Yes: You want to distribute items and weight relatively equally, putting the heaviest items (for example, Trapper Keeper, science book, notebook computer) in the middle, closest to the body.
Would our kids be better off using roller backpacks (or some other alternative)? Or are backpacks done right safe, and/or even have some benefits?
There’s been a lot of back and forth on roller backpacks. I never recommend wearing roller backpacks on your back—this is generally uncomfortable because of the design and wheels, and usually does not make for a good fit. (Also, I personally don’t like the dirt from the wheels on my back. I wear a backpack every day, twenty minutes each way, and if I have too much to carry one day, I’ll use my rolling backpack. But I wouldn’t put it on my back.)
Some schools don’t allow roller backpacks because kids can hurt themselves when playing around with them (for instance, on the stairs). But if a roller backpack is an option you’re considering for your child, I think the choice largely depends on if your child is going to be solely pulling the backpack or if they are going to have to carry it a lot. Do they have to lift the backpack often to get around school? Do they take the stairs? If your child needs to wear the backpack on their back, it’s not the best choice.
But if your child can roll the backpack instead of wearing it, then it could make sense. In that case, you want to be sure that the surface they are rolling the backpack on doesn’t add extra stress as they are pulling, and that the handle is adjustable to the child’s height.
What’s interesting, though, is that wearing a backpack that fits correctly can be good exercise for a child. This isn’t dissimilar to how we think of carrying a backpack and going on a hike as good exercise for us. And of course, a backpack is an incredibly useful tool—students have a lot of things they have to transport. I’m a very big fan of backpacks—all my children used them, my grandchildren do, I do, and I encourage others to use them all the time.
For kids who already have back pain, can the damage be undone?
If your child is experiencing back pain, make an appointment with your pediatrician. You should also turn to your school’s occupational therapy practitioners—they are mandated to be in all schools in the U.S. and are knowledgeable about backpack safety.
Exercise is really helpful—make an exercise plan with your physician. Have your kid take a break every thirty minutes and get up and stretch—this is important when children are spending long periods of time sitting down. A free app that I helped develop, called Stretch Break for Kids, helps to remind kids to take breaks while on the computer and guides them through a series of stretches.
What else—like sitting on a computer for too long—should be on parents’ radar? Is there a bigger culprit when it comes to structural damage?
The overarching concern is a sedentary lifestyle. Many schools no longer have full gym classes as they did in the past. Many kids are spending a lot of time sitting in front of the TV, playing video games, on the computer. Kids (and adults) are using tablets in a forward flex position that is terrible for the neck, or on smartphones in awkward positions. Just consider the awkward postures of your child as he/she plays Pokemon Go! All of these things (along with improper backpack wear) can contribute to discomfort, and potentially bigger, more permanent pain issues and injuries if they aren’t addressed over time.
For more information on backpack safety, check out the American Occupational Therapy Association and their National School Backpack Awareness Day (September, 21, 2016).
The views expressed in this article intend to highlight alternative studies and induce conversation. They are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of goop, and are for informational purposes only, even if and to the extent that this article features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.
Below, a few backpacks from our back-to-school shop that we like for kids toting textbooks come fall, plus a couple of lunchboxes to pair them with.