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Don't let backpacks be a pain!

Choose the best backpack for your child

Avoid pain and choose the right backpack

While many children have mixed feelings about heading back to school, there's one element of the season that they almost universally adore: shopping for a new backpack.

While your child may be itching to pick out a backpack in the brightest color or the prettiest pattern, you as a parent probably have more practical concerns about which bags are healthy and safe for your growing child. Though your instinct might be to purchase the most ergonomically suitable pack you can find, Dr. David Smaldone, DC, of Kingston and New Paltz's Smaldone Chiropractic suggests you resist the urge.

The right backpack, the right way

"The best backpack for each child is really the one that they're going to wear the right way," he says. "If they're not going to wear it the right way, then it's a moot point."

If your child is willing to wear it, the best type of backpack for weight distribution is a double strap backpack with a waistband, like the kind hikers use to haul heavy loads. "The waist support helps keep the child upright and evenly distributes the weight vertically on the spine," Dr. Smaldone says.

If wearing a waist support or even two straps is out of the question, Dr. Smaldone suggests considering an across-the-back or single-strap bag. "For a child who is unwilling or unable to wear two straps, these options will help distribute weight more evenly," he says.

Another option, even better than a traditional backpack, is a roller bag. "If the child has to carry lots of books or is traveling long distances going from one place to another, a rolling bag with a handle is a wonderful option to take virtually all stress off of the spine," Dr. Smaldone says.

Is their backpack too heavy?

If your child has his heart set on a new Jansport, pay attention to how much weight he is carrying throughout the school year. Experts at the Hudson Valley Whole Life Center in Newburgh recommend the Foundation for Chiropractic Progress' (F4CP) guidelines on backpacks, which state that the weight of a backpack should not exceed 5 to 10 percent of an individual's body weight.

For a visual check to determine whether your child's backpack is too heavy, take a look at the way he stands when wearing it. "Generally speaking, if a child has to lean forward to a point in which the hole of the ear is past the shoulder it is more than the child should carry on a regular basis," Dr. Smaldone says.

If you notice your child consistently in such a position, it might be time to head back to the store for another round of backpack shopping.

Choosing the wrong backpack can be a real pain

Uneven weight distribution for prolonged periods of time can start to negatively impact your child's health and development. One condition that can result is scoliosis, a sideways or forward curvature of the spine. "It also can lead to excessive forward head posture, which is correlated with headaches, tension, and neck pain in adults and children," Dr. Smaldone says.

F4CP guidelines state that children who are prone to slouching take extra care with their posture, as sitting in a more slumped position at a desk in school can further compound back and spine problems. For double strapped backpacks, the guidelines recommend using padded straps and ensuring they are tightened so that the bag is positioned properly on the back.

If your child complains about back pain that won't go away, it may be time to seek medical help. "A child constantly complaining of back pain is not common," Dr. Smaldone says. "A day or two can be common but, generally speaking, children heal much faster than adults. A continuing complaint should be taken seriously."

Elora Tocci is a local freelance writer.