Backpack Safety and Tips

Written by Elijah Wolfson | Published on September 4, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Monica Gross, M.D. on September 4, 2014

Backpack Safety and Tips Overview

Back problems are usually associated with the ails of advancing age. So it may surprise you to learn that studies performed during the past decade have shown near epidemic levels of back pain in school children.

So what’s causing healthy children to suffer from daily pain? Signs point to that heavy load of schoolbooks, assignments, and supplies. The backpack is the center of a child’s school life. Studies show that children who regularly use backpacks are more likely to report back pain. Heavier backpacks unquestionably caused more pain, and when children put their backpacks away, their back pain goes away too.

Is the Backpack to Blame?

Backpacks themselves probably don’t deserve a bad reputation. Compared to the alternative options—shoulder bags, messenger bags, or purses—a backpack is actually the healthiest way to carry a heavy load. A backpack is designed to distribute the weight of the load across the strongest muscles in the human body. These are the back and abdominal muscles.

Because of this design, backpacks will almost never cause serious or long-term back pain. Muscle pain caused by backpacks usually occurs because children don’t wear their backpacks correctly or load them with far too much weight.

Luckily, it just takes a little common sense and some moderation to prevent backpack-related back pain. Here are some things to consider when buying and using a backpack that can save you trouble down the road.

Purchasing a Healthy Backpack

Consider these features when purchasing a backpack to ensure you get one that keeps your child feeling great.

  • Lightweight. Choose a backpack made of canvas or nylon so there isn’t any extraneous weight to carry around.
  • Multiple compartments. Besides keeping your child organized, multiple compartments can help to distribute the weight of books and supplies more evenly throughout the bag.
  • Padded straps. Make sure your pack has two fairly wide, padded shoulder straps to distribute the weight of the pack evenly. Narrow straps can dig into the shoulder.
  • Padded back. A pack with built-in padding in the back panel can help take some pressure off your child’s back.
  • Waist belt. A waist belt can take some of the weight of the pack off your child’s back and onto their hips instead.
  • General comfort. This may be obvious, but make sure your child is comfortable wearing the pack. There shouldn’t be anything that sticks out of the bag and pokes your child, and it should feel comfortable on their back. Also make sure your child is confident and happy to use the backpack. Involve them in the decision to ensure you don’t buy something too "uncool."

Obviously, a backpack that rolls on wheels can help your child avoid back pain. But rolling backpacks can come with their own set of problems and inconveniences. They may not fit in school lockers, be difficult to maneuver, and in areas of the country with inclement weather, they may be impractical (imagine dragging a wheeled bag through the snow).

Wearing a Backpack Safely

Here are some tips on how to lessen the physical impact of having to wear a backpack day after day.

Lighten the Load

Twenty pounds may not seem that much, but for a kid who weighs only 75 pounds, that’s nearly a third of their body weight. Imagine if you had to carry around a 55-pound weight on your back all day. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recommends that children should carry no more than 10 percent of their body weight in their backpacks. To lighten the load, make sure that your child is only carrying the books they need between classes and for studying at home. Encourage leaving as much as possible in the locker.

Two Straps

Make sure your child isn’t slinging the bag over one shoulder. Backpacks are built with two straps for a purpose. They distribute the weight of the load across the entire back.

Get the Right Fit

Tighten the straps so that the backpack rests snugly against the body and sits approximately two inches above your child’s waist. If there’s a waist belt, tighten it across your child’s body. Make sure all straps are also snug, but not too tight.

Organize

Try to distribute weight evenly among the compartments in the bag, and make sure that there isn’t too much weight being piled onto the top of the bag.

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