Backpack Safety: It's Time to Lighten the Load on Our Kids

When you move your child's backpack, does it feel like it contains 40 pounds of rocks? Maybe you've noticed your child struggling to put it on, bending forward while carrying it, or complaining of tingling or numbness.

If you've been concerned about the effects that extra weight might have on your child's still-growing body, your instincts are correct. Backpacks that are too heavy can cause back, neck and shoulder pain as well as poor posture.

While it's common to see children carrying as much as a quarter of their body weight, the American Chiropractic Association recommends that backpacks weigh no more than 5% to 10% of a child's weight.

Choose an Ergonomic Backpack

Until lighter-weight solutions like digital textbooks become widespread, there are things you can do to help prevent injury. When selecting a backpack, look for these features:

  • The appropriately sized backpack should not be wider than the child's torso or hang more than 4 inches below the waist

  • Padded, adjustable shoulder straps help distribute the weight on children’s backs without digging into their shoulders

  • A padded back protects against backpack contents poking into the child’s back

  • Chest and waist straps help distribute the backpack’s weight more evenly

  • Multiple compartments help to position weight more effectively within the backpack

  • Compression straps stabilize the contents

  • Reflective material allow children to be seen when walking to and from school

Pack Smartly

A roomy backpack may seem like a good idea, but the more space there is to fill, the more likely your child will fill it. Help children determine what is absolutely necessary to carry. Everything else should be left at home, in their locker or in the classroom.

Teach children to load the backpack with the heaviest items first closest to the bottom and the center of the back of the backpack and to make use of the multiple compartments to distribute the load.

Use the Backpack Correctly

Check the fit of the backpack:

  • Children should use both straps when carrying the backpack; using one strap shifts the weight to one side and causes muscle pain and posture problems

  • Shoulder straps should be tightened so the backpack is fitted to the child’s back; a dangling backpack can cause spinal misalignment and pain

  • Encourage children to use the chest, waist and compression straps and to adjust them to the load to help distribute the backpack’s weight more evenly

What about Backpacks on Wheels?

According to ACA, rolling backpacks should be used "cautiously and on a limited basis by only those students who are not physically able to carry a backpack." The reason? They clutter school corridors, replacing a potential back injury hazard with a tripping hazard.

Pick up that backpack from time to time to test its weight, and let your children know you've got their back.

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