Fact Sheets : Backpack Safety

Parents and child care professionals are often worried about the amount of books and other supplies kids have to carry with them to and from school. Backpacks of course were designed to help carry these items. Unfortunately, excessive weight and/or improperly or incorrectly used backpacks can cause injury to children and teenagers. Backpack related symptoms include: severe back, neck and shoulder pain. Posture problems can also result from the improper use of backpacks.

How much weight is too much?

As a general rule, the backpack should never weigh more than 10-20% of the student's body weight. So, as an example, for a 70 lb child, anything over 14 lbs is too heavy.

Here are some common sense tips:

  • Parents should ask their kids to report any pain or other problem resulting form carrying a backpack. If the pain is severe or persistent, get it checked out by your doctor.
     
  • Try to limit the weight of the load. This may be achieved by talking to your child's school. Also, try to pack objects/books that are only absolutely necessary.
     
  • Perhaps the students can be allowed to stop at their lockers through the day instead of having to carry all of their books to all classes.
     
  • Proper lifting is important; kids should face the backpack, bend at the knees and use both hands. They should then lift with their legs, applying one shoulder strap and then the other.
     
  • Some textbooks do not need to be transported back and forth from home to school all the time.

How to choose a Backpack:

This checklist was derived from American Academy of Pediatrics backpack recommendations:

  • Choose backpacks with wide, padded shoulder straps. Narrow straps can dig into shoulders resulting in pain and restricted circulation.
     
  • The backpack should have a padded back, which protects against sharp edges on objects inside the pack and increases comfort.
     
  • Always use both shoulder straps. Carrying a backpack over one shoulder can strain muscles and may increase curvature of the spine. Also backpacks with an extra strap that wrap around the waist offer better support.
     
  • Organize the backpack to use all of its compartments. Pack heavier items closest to the center of the back.
     
  • Use a rolling backpack (on wheels). This type of backpack may be a good choice for students who must carry a heavy load. Remember that rolling backpacks still must be carried upstairs. Also, they may be difficult to roll in snow.