Backpack safety

August 07, 2010

Is your child overloaded?

Of all the physical burdens children must shoulder, their backpacks are probably the heaviest.

Crammed with everything from lunches to laptops, bags can cause stiff necks, sore shoulders and aching backs. The Consumer Product Safety Commission found that every year, more than 10,000 children ages 5 to 14 see doctors with backpack-related complaints.

"The extra stress placed on the spine and shoulder from heavy loads is causing children to develop adult-like back problems," said Dr. Christine Ho, a pediatric orthopedic specialist at Children's Medical Center and assistant professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at UT Southwestern Medical Center. "The most common injuries are muscle strains and, in extreme cases, slipped discs. Some injuries could lead to long term conditions if not avoided."

Easy on their backs

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends looking for these features when shopping for your child's backpack:

  • Wide, padded shoulder straps – Narrow straps can dig into shoulders. This can cause pain and restrict circulation.
  • Two shoulder straps – Backpacks with one shoulder strap that runs across the body do not distribute weight evenly.
  • Padded back – Extra padding protects against sharp edges on objects inside the pack and increases comfort.
  • Waist strap – A strap can distribute the weight of a heavy load more evenly.
  • Lightweight backpack – The backpack itself should not add much weight to the load.
  • Rolling backpack – This type of backpack may be a good choice for students who must tote a heavy load.

Tips to prevent injury

  • Always use both shoulder straps.
  • Tighten the straps so that the pack is close to the body.
  • Pack light. The backpack should never weigh more than 10 to 20 percent of the student's body weight.
  • Pack heavier items closest to the center of the back.
  • Stop often at school lockers, if possible. Do not carry every book all day.
  • Bend using both knees to pick up the backpack.
  • Learn back-strengthening exercises. Ask your pediatrician for advice.


Physical Therapy