(Chester County Moms)

Amazingly, it is just around the corner - the kids are returning to school. (Go ahead ... do your happy dance!) You have the list of school supplies to buy, but have you given much thought to the backpack your child is wearing? Before you throw one in the shopping cart, here are some tips for the safe selection and use of backpacks.

By the numbers:

  • More than 7,300 ER visits per year secondary to injuries related to backpacks
  • Backpack-related injuries up 330% since 1996

Do the math:
Test your knowledge. What is (12 x 10) 180 / 2,000?
(The average backpack weighs 12 pounds. Assuming that it is lifted 10 times per day equals 120 pounds. Multiply that by 180 days and that means the average student would lift 21,600 pounds in a school year. That is nearly 11 tons or the equivalent of 6 full-size cars.)

First, the bad news:
If too heavy or worn incorrectly, backpacks can injure muscles or joints and may cause neck, back, or shoulder pain.

Now the positives:
When worn correctly, backpacks distribute weight better and allow the back and abdominal muscles to support the weight. Backpacks should:

  • Be evenly centered in the middle of the back
  • Not be wider or longer than the child's torso
  • Not extend further than 4 inches below the waistline when loaded

Be aware:

  • The total weight of the loaded backpack should not be more than 10%-15% of the child's body weight
  • Utilize both straps over both shoulders; avoid narrow straps as they can dig into shoulders, compromising neurovascular structures that may result in numbness, tingling, or weakness in the arms and/or hands. Tighten the straps so the weight is close to the body
  • Backpacks that are too heavy or worn incorrectly can cause poor posture to compensate and may result in pain. Heavy backpacks can change the way kids walk and make them more susceptible to falling (particularly if the pack weighs more than 25% of their body weight)
  • Girls and younger children may be more at risk because they are smaller and the loads may be heavier relative to their body weight.

Backpacks with wheels can be useful, but they present their own set of challenges as they:

  • Can be up to 80% heavier than regular backpacks
  • Can be a tripping hazard in crowded hallways
  • Can make negotiating curbs and stairs more difficult

Although backpacks with two straps are preferred, if your child insists on using just one strap OR the bag only has a single strap then it should be slung diagonally to distribute the load better. Be sure to alternate the direction the pack is slung over the back to avoid overuse.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends selecting backpacks that:

  • Are lightweight (won't add significantly more weight to the carried load)
  • Have wide, padded shoulder straps
  • Has a padded back (increases comfort/protection from sharp objects)
  • Has a waist belt (helps to distribute weight more evenly)
  • Have multiple compartments (helps to distribute weight more evenly)

Encourage your kids to use their backpacks wisely:

  • Don't carry unnecessary items (i.e. video games, cameras)
  • Use all the compartments to distribute the weight, use the compartment closest to the back for heavier items
  • Use proper lifting techniques (i.e. bend the knees and lift with the legs, sling one arm then the other) when putting on heavy backpacks
  • Use lockers throughout the day to lighten the load

Parents and teachers should observe each child to look for adverse signs of risk such as:

  • Struggling to get the backpack on or off
  • Complaints of back pain
  • Leaning forward to carry the backpack

By observing these simple steps, the use of backpacks during the school year will hopefully be a healthy one ... and not a pain in the neck.

Share This Page: