Ask the Expert: How Do I Choose the Right Backpack for My Child?

Ask the Expert: How Do I Choose the Right Backpack for My Child?


Dr. Michael Cocilovo of New City Chiropractic Center offers 7 guidelines for choosing a good backpack or book bag for your child, to avoid back pain or back problems like scoliosis. Read his tips before you start your back-to-school shopping this year.

As autumn approaches, our thoughts turn from beaches and barbeques to apple picking and foliage sightseeing. It is also a time when we start to prepare for back to school, and that means shopping for new backpacks.

This is an important purchase because it directly impacts the health and posture of our children. Recent studies have shown that 64 percent of children suffer from back pain. Most cases can be traced to overloaded or ill-fitting backpacks or other school bags. Learning to load, wear, and use a backpack properly is important and so is making sure the backpack distributes the load efficiently. If you have determined that the best book bag for your child is in fact an ergonomic backpack, then here are some key features to look for:

1. Two Straps: Make sure the bag has two straps. Single-strapped bags, like satchels and duffel bags, should be avoided. A single strap places the entire load on one side of the body. Two straps balance the load on both shoulders.

2. Size: The second most important thing is to have the right size bag. The bag should be no larger than the child's back. It should rest 1 to 2 inches below the shoulders and no more than 4 inches below the waistline (Note: the waistline is level with the belly button.)

3. Wide, Padded Straps: The bag should have wide shoulder straps. Wide straps distribute the load over more area of the shoulder. The wider the better, with a minimum of 2 inches. The straps should also be padded. Padding spreads the load and alleviates any pressure points.

4. Waist Strap: A waist strap is a wonderful thing! It dramatically helps direct the load away from the shoulders and onto the much stronger waist and hip muscle groups. By lowering part of the load to this point you also remove it from the spine. Less stress on the back and spine means less chance of back pain.

5. Chest Strap: A strap across the chest from shoulder strap to shoulder strap is a small, but worthwhile improvement. It holds the shoulder straps securely on the main part of the shoulder eliminating slippage and load shifting. It also reduces the urge to slouch.

6. Compartments: Having a bag with several compartments helps in two ways. First, it helps keep the load where you put it and a properly loaded backpack can go a long way to reducing the stress and a load that shifts means shifting or dynamic stress -- dynamic stresses are bad. Second, it lets you put flat things next to the back and pointy things -- like pencils, pens, and protractors -- away from it.

7. Lightweight: The bag should be light -- the lighter the better. Stress on the back is caused by the weight of the bag. Anything you can do to reduce that weight will reduce the stress.

By following these simple but important guidelines when purchasing your child's new backpack, you will be eliminating much of the stresses and strains that can cause back pain and contribute to scoliosis.


Dr. Michael Cocilovo of New City Chiropractic Center is a father of two who has been practicing chiropractic care in Rockland County for more than 25 years. Dr. Cocilovo earned his undergraduate degree from Seton Hall University and graduated with honors from New York Chiropractic College. He is a long-time member of the New York State Chiropractic Association and is past president of the Rockland County Chapter of the American Chiropractic Association.