Guidance for Back to School Backpack and Shoe Shopping

guidance for back to school backpack and shoe shopping syracuse orthopedic specialists

August is here and already parents and kids alike are planning for the start of school – some with joy, some with dread, as they both face the ritual of back to school shopping.  It is important when choosing gear, such as backpacks and shoes, to ensure proper fit to maintain a healthy posture and feet. 

“A poorly-fitting backpack can create a great deal of discomfort, and even severe back and neck pain,” commented Dr. Aaron Bianco, SOS Neck & Back physician.  “It can be a balance for parents and kids to find the “cool” characters or features, but here are some suggestions of what to seek for a comfortable, safe fit.”

  • Backpacks that are too heavy or are worn incorrectly can cause problems. If they are worn incorrectly, backpacks may injure muscles and joints and to severe back, neck and shoulder pain, as well as posture problems.
  • When shopping, look for a backpack that is appropriate for the size of the student. In addition, look for some of the following features:
    • Wide, padded shoulder straps
    • Two shoulder straps
    • Padded back
    • Waist strap
    • Lightweight backpack
    • Rolling backpack
  • To prevent injury when using a backpack, do the following:
    • Use both shoulder straps to keep the weight of the backpack better distributed 
    • Tighten the straps to keep the load closer to the back
    • Pack light: carry no more than 15 to 20% of body weight
    • Organize items and pack heavier things low and towards the center
    • Remove items if the backpack is too heavy and only carry items necessary for the day
    • Lift properly by bending at the knees when picking up a backpack

“With a little forethought and some research, students can be stylish and avoid pain or injury if they shop smart backpacks,” remarked Dr. Bianco.  

Shoes and other athletic footwear are another big purchase for students returning to school.  With a variety of styles and colors to choose from, many an argument can be heard in the footwear aisle when parents and children disagree on price, brand and look.  “But, choosing the right shoe is critical for a student,” comments Maureen Kaljeskie, C.Ped., a pedorthist with SOS.  “Shoes that are too tight, too loose, or that lack good support can lead to unwanted stress on the feet, ankles, lower leg, hip and spine. Ongoing pressure may cause pain and injuries.” 

For students of all ages, it is important to have the right size shoe.  Shoe stores or shoe departments in larger stores will have associates who can measure proper fit. Other stores should have measuring tools or charts available.


Students who are still growing have several other considerations when purchasing shoes, including:

  • A child's foot may grow faster than you expect at different ages and stages, so it is important to check the fit of your child's shoes regularly. If the shoes become difficult to place on the foot, and/or the child consistently wants their shoes off, it may mean that the shoes have become too small.
  • The toe box should be roomy and wide enough for the toes to wiggle. A finger's breadth of extra length will usually allow for about 3-to-6 months of growth, depending on the child's age and growth rate.
  • Consider a store that specializes in shoes for growing feet. In the early years, a child's foot may be wide through the arch, so proper fitting in the width is important.
  • A sneaker or soft-soled shoe is a good choice. A typical, low-cut sneaker allows the child to develop the ligaments and muscles around the ankle that are necessary for developing good balance and stabilization.

“Our feet are under constant stress, and one of the best choices a student, or anyone, can make to keep them healthy is too wear proper-fitting footwear.  Hopefully parents and children can identify a trendy, well made shoe to keep both happy,” says Kaljeskie.