ADHD: A Parenting Guide

Why Kids Shouldn't Wear Backpacks with One Shoulder Strap

Whether carrying a heavy backpack can cause long-term disabilities isn't known; however, shoulder and back pain are frequent complaints of children who see orthopedic doctors. Often, the cause of pain is carrying backpacks that are too heavy or have only one shoulder strap. Even if a backpack has two straps, kids often sling it over one shoulder. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent your child from straining muscles that can cause shoulder, neck, and back pain.

Problems with one-shoulder-strap styles

Wearing the weight of the backpack on one side of the body places too much downward pressure on the shoulder. Children then lean to one side in an effort to make up for the extra weight. In addition to causing back pain, the uneven distribution of the weight can strain a child's shoulders and neck.

Carrying the backpack in a hand doesn't help either. Kids who carry a single-strap backpack in one hand can suffer back pain as well. Fortunately, you can help protect your child from physical problems related to backpacks by following some simple advice from experts.

Avoid backpacks with only one shoulder strap.

Choose a style backpack that has two straps, and encourage your child to wear both straps over the shoulders. Wearing a backpack slung over one shoulder can contribute to poor posture and cause pain on the side of the body bearing the entire weight of the pack.

Whether your child carries a backpack with one or two shoulder straps, adjust the straps so the pack is positioned in the middle of the back over the area of the lower rib cage, not the lower back. Your child can also take some of the weight off his or her shoulders and back by using a two-strap backpack with a waist belt. A waist belt redistributes the weight across the abdominal muscles, which helps improve balance and stability.

Loose shoulder straps can be another problem as they make a backpack feel heavier. Tightening the straps for a better fit will help your child balance the weight of the pack.

Lighten the load.

Carrying less weight in the backpack decreases strain on the shoulders and back. Doctors caution against a child wearing a backpack that weighs more than 10 to 15 percent of his or her body weight when loaded.

Select a backpack style with compartments to spread out the weight of the contents. You can also help your child load the backpack so there is equal weight on either side. Another strategy is to place the heaviest items inside the pack closest to your child's back. Keep smaller items toward the outer side of the backpack.

Strive for comfort.

You can lighten the load your child carries by choosing a backpack made from a lightweight fabric such as canvas. It also helps to select a backpack with padded shoulder straps that won't dig into your child's shoulders. Narrow, unpadded shoulder straps can pinch the trapezius muscle -- the large, flat muscle that covers the back of the shoulders and neck. Although the trapezius provides upright posture support and moves and steadies the shoulder blades, wearing shoulder straps that are too tight can interfere with nerve function and may cause numbness and weakness in your child's arms and hands.

In addition, padded shoulder straps are usually wider, which help distribute the weight of the backpack more evenly. A sign there may be too much weight in the backpack is your child leaning forward when standing or walking. If these tips aren't followed, you may need a shoulder surgeon for your child.