Tips for Backpack Safety

Author: Courney Erickson-Adams, MD

Have you lifted your child’s backpack lately? Not the canvas shell that’s hanging on the hook at night—but the fully-loaded version that your child carries around all day that may be putting their health at risk.

Although backpacks may seem to be a benign way to get homework and supplies back and forth to school, they can also create serious problems if not used properly. 

Backpack-related health risks

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), a 2014 report by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) noted that more than 28,000 people were treated in hospitals and doctors’ offices for backpack-related injuries that year, and over 8,300 of those treated were 5-18 years of age. 

Backpacks that are too heavy or are worn incorrectly may injure muscles and joints—which can lead to pain in the back, neck, and shoulders. Problems with posture can occur, as well. 

Backpack safety tips

The AAOS and the Pediatric Orthopaedic Society of North America (POSNA) recommend that parents and kids pay attention to the backpack burden to help avoid injuries that may occur with improper use. 

The following tips for backpack safety can help:

  • Choose appropriately. Look for a backpack that’s lightweight and appropriate for your child’s size—which the National Safety Council (NSC) describes as one that is not wider than the child’s torso, or that hangs more than four inches below the child’s waist. Make sure it includes two wide, padded shoulder straps, a padded back, and a waist strap. In some instances, a rolling backpack may be a good choice—although stairs, snow, and school district rules may limit this option.
  • Wear properly. Make sure your child always uses both shoulder straps to distribute the weight evenly, and tightens them to keep the weight closer to the back.
  • Pack wisely. Keep it light by removing that which is unnecessary and/or too heavy. The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) says that backpacks should not weigh more than 5 – 10 percent of a child’s weight. Use all compartments to distribute the weight, and organize the pack so that heavier items are low and towards the center. If a too-heavy item is essential, encourage your child to carry it in their arms, instead. 
  • Lift correctly. When lifting the backpack, remind your child to bend at the knees to make it easier on the back. 
  • Monitor use. Watch your child put on and take off the backpack to see if it’s difficult for them to do. 
  • Ask and listen. Make sure your child knows how important it is to tell you about any numbness, tingling, or discomfort in the arms or legs. Always take reports of pain seriously. 
  • Take appropriate steps. If your child has pain that doesn’t improve by following these tips, see a healthcare provider for further evaluation. 

If your child is experiencing backpack-related pain, our team of experts is uniquely equipped to provide the evaluation and treatment you need.  

Contact us today.