Maybe you’ve never thought of backpack safety, but 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.
Although backpacks may seem to be a benign way to get homework and supplies back and forth to school, they can also create 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.
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. For better backpack safety, 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.