Backpack Safety for Kids

Backpack Safety: It's Time to Lighten the Load

When you move your child's backpack after he or she drops it at the door, 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 a lot of problems for kids, like back, neck and shoulder pain, as well as poor posture.

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

The problem has grabbed the attention of lawmakers in some states, who have pushed for legislation requiring school districts to lighten the load. While we wait for solutions like digital textbooks to become widespread, there are things you can do to help prevent injury.

Start With an Ergonomic Backpack

When selecting a backpack, look for:

  • An appropriate size: A backpack should not be wider than your child's torso or hang more than 4 inches below the waist
  • Padded, adjustable shoulder straps to help distribute the weight on your child’s back without digging into their shoulders
  • Padded back to protect against contents inside the backpack poking into your child’s back
  • Waist and chest straps to help distribute the weight of the backpack more evenly across your child’s back
  • Multiple compartments to help position the weight more effectively
  • Compression straps to stabilize the contents
  • Reflective material to allow your child to be seen when walking to and from school

Use the Backpack Correctly

Check the fit of the backpack:

  • Make sure your child uses both straps when carrying the backpack; using one strap shifts the weight to one side and causes muscle pain and posture problems
  • Make certain the shoulder straps are tightened so the backpack is fitted to your child’s back; a dangling backpack can cause spinal misalignment and pain
  • Encourage your child to use the chest, waist and compression straps, and to adjust them to the load

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 your child determine what is absolutely necessary to carry. If it's not essential, have them leave it at home, in their locker or in the classroom.

Teach your child 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.

What about Backpacks on Wheels?

According to the 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.

So, pick up that backpack from time to time, and let your children know you've got their back.