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Is Your Child's Backpack Creating Health Problems?

backpackI always find it a little funny when I see a little boy or girl with a huge backpack that looks almost as big as they are.

I really shouldn’t chuckle, because all the science indicates that an improper backpack fit can actually negatively affect children’s health. And that’s no laughing matter.

If you’ve been following our blog posts this month, you know we are focusing on posture. Backpacks are a major contributor to poor posture in students…but they don’t have to be!

Here are some “best practice” guidelines on how to choose the best backpack for your children. And then, I’ll give you some bits of backpack wisdom I’ve found over the years, having 3 kids in school over the last 13 years (that’s a lot of backpacks!!)

To make it easier to remember, here’s a FREE infographic with all the pertinent steps to a GREAT backpack fit!


Getting the Right Fit

1. Measure your child’s torso.

It’s not about their height at all; it’s the torso that counts. Take a tape measure and measure from the big bump at the top of their back between their shoulders (that’s the C7 vertebra, by the way).

Now find your child’s hip bones (iliac crests). With your index fingers pointing forward on either side and your thumbs pointing toward each other along your child’s back, find the point on your child’s lower back at the middle of where your thumbs are.

Now measure from the bump at C7 to the point on your child’s back between their hips. That’s the torso measurement.

Your child’s backpack should match their torso measurement.

A smaller backpack is always better than a bigger backpack for spinal health.

2. Hip straps or belt

Some backpacks have hip straps. These are great because the child’s hips can take the majority of the weight of the backpack instead of the shoulders and upper back.

3. Sternum strap

A sternum strap is a buckle that connects one strap to the other strap across your child’s chest. The sternum strap tends to keep the backpack straps sitting flat across the chest for a more comfortable fit. The straps will tend to dig less into your child’s shoulders.

4. Shoulder straps and load lifters

These are straps you’re likely to only find if you purchase your backpack at a camping store like Mountain Equipment Co-op or Sail. They are straps that are used to fine tune the fit and manage the pressure on your child’s upper back and shoulders. These straps are actually my favourite part of my hiking pack because they go a long way to alleviating pain caused by a heavy load.

Ideally, you want to use the shoulder straps and load lifting straps to achieve a comfortable fit across the shoulders, with the backpack snugly tucked onto the back.

Packing Your Child’s Backpack

After getting the right fit, packing the backpack properly is critical. Heavier items should be placed at the bottom and closest to the back. Lighter items go closer to the top.  Odd shaped or bumpy items go on the outside of the backpack, further away from the spine.

Use all the compartments provided to spread out the weight.  Ideally, your child’s backpack should weigh no more than 10-15% of their body weight.

Encourage your child to carry only the items necessary in the backpack. My kids leave so much junk in their packs, I have to go through them every few weeks and do a clean out just to find things and take some weight out!

Bits of Backpack Wisdom I’ve Learned Over the Years…

I’m giving you the “best practices” version of how to choose, fit and wear the right backpack. Being a parent, you know that what’s BEST doesn’t always happen in reality. Here are some challenges we’ve faced getting our kids to “pack it light and wear it right” and some interesting observations.

  • Wearing a backpack with hip straps, sternum straps and load lifters is not cool. Often, the most flimsy, ridiculous excuse for a backpack is the one all the kids want to wear. Some kids care and some don’t. You may have to decide which battles to pick on this. We sure did.
  • Even if we did find a backpack our kids would wear with the right straps, kids are inherently lazy and distracted and won’t use them unless they’re in a lot of pain. Just sayin’.
  • When our oldest son, Jackson, went off to Kindergarten with his perfectly fitted ObusForme backpack that was the perfect size for his tiny torso, we learned an important lesson on day 1. Library books and art projects can be a major problem. The “Where’s Waldo” book he chose to bring home was so big it wouldn’t fit into his backpack. And that was just the beginning. We eventually had to buy him a bigger backpack to accommodate the items necessary to lug home in – yes – Kindergarten.
  • It’s way cooler to sling the pack over 1 shoulder than carry it properly. This can create an uneven load on one side of the body (since people typically favour 1 side), creating spinal issues and symptoms such as back pain, numbness or tingling down an arm or hand, stiff and sore neck, headaches or migraines, digestive problems, growing pains and many more (if you’re curious about why that is, visit our website at

Your children will be in school for a long time. Teaching them young and reinforcing each fall the importance of a well chosen and properly packed backpack is critical to their overall health.

If you have any questions or would like us to check your child’s backpack fit, please let us know. We’re happy to help!

–        Dr. Craig and Dr. Shawna

P.S. If you haven’t checked your child’s posture using our super quick and easy 3-Step Posture Self Assessment tool, download it here:


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