Backpack tips

February 12, 2009 —

Backpack tips

Don’t let a heavy load weigh your child down.

Improper backpack fit may lead to backpack, muscle aches, poor posture

You know your kids need pencils, paper, calculators and rulers for school. One more thing you may not even know you should check is the fit of their backpack.

“An improper fit of your child’s backpack could lead to back pain, shoulder aches and strained muscles,” explained Kari Smith, D.P.T., ATC, a Des Moines University Clinic physical therapist.

Backpacks should always be worn with both straps to properly balance the weight. It also should be adjusted to sit up high on the mid-back instead of drooping down low. Arms should be able to move easily. Very useful are compression straps that when tightened, help compress the pack and stabilize it on the child.

“Maybe most important is the weight of the bag. A backpack should never be more than 10 to 15 percent of the child’s body weight. Often materials can be weeded out, left at school or home or carried only on days when needed. Even a slight reduction in the weight of the bag will help protect those still-growing muscles,” Dr. Smith said.

Signs of an improper fit or overloaded bag may include the following:

  • Poor posture
  • Red marks on shoulder or back
  • Numbness or tingling in arms
  • Difficulty putting on or taking off the backpack

Not only do you need to check the weight but also the size; getting an appropriately sized backpack for the child is also important.

Dr. Smith is the manager of the Des Moines University physical therapy clinic; she and her colleagues would be happy to assist in preventive care, such as offering guidance on proper backpack fit, or helping correct muscle imbalances or problems from sports injuries or daily activities.

To make an appointment call 515-271-1717.

Get more backpack tips from the American Physical Therapy Association


Courtney Tompkins has been part of the DMU marketing team since Nov. 2005 and loves promoting a school she believes in so thoroughly. Proud daughter and patient of DMU alumni, Courtney knows, first-hand, that Des Moines University is doing a world of good. A fan of all outdoor festivals, fruity drinks and nearly all edibles, she has a hard time narrowing down her list of favorite places to go and things to do but lists the Iowa State Fair as an all-time fave. She loves her 8-minute commute to DMU from Urbandale, a suburb of Des Moines. She and husband Tyler are owned by three large dogs, Tonka, Tucker and Tank.

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