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7 Steps to Avoid Backpack Injuries

Published on Aug. 19, 2021

Do your children’s backpacks seem to be growing as quickly as they are? Most kids rely on backpacks to safely carry books and supplies to and from school and activities. But a backpack can become too heavy rather quickly. It may sound silly at first, but heavy backpacks can cause back, neck, and shoulder pain, as well as posture problems.

Carrying a heavy load can be tricky for kids. They may arch their back, bend forward, twist, or lean to one side if they aren’t schooled on proper posture. These positions can change their spinal alignment in such a way that the discs aren’t absorbing shock as they should, leading to injured muscles and joints. It can also interfere with general posture, and in rare cases, nerve damage.

“Every year we see a handful of kids who come in with acute back pain at the beginning of the school year, and a lot of time it is due to ill-fitting backpacks – especially in our middle schoolers and our high schoolers, since they’re carrying a heavy load,” says Dr. Stephanie Galdes, DO, FAAP, a pediatrician with Munson Healthcare’s Kids Creek Children’s Clinic in Traverse City. “It’s always a good idea, even with your elementary kids, to try on that backpack, make sure it fits good, make sure they can fit all their needed supplies in.”

Choosing the right backpack

Protecting your child’s back begins with choosing the right backpack. Pick backpacks for your children that have the following traits:

  • Lightweight, but strong fabric (think cotton canvas or nylon)
  • Two wide, padded shoulder straps (not just 1 strap)
  • A padded back to protect against sharp objects inside the bag
  • A waist and chest strap to help keep the bag stable
  • Appropriately sized (isn't wider than your child's torso or hanging more than 4 inches below the waist)

Rolling backpacks

A rolling backpack can be useful if your child is unable to carry a backpack. However, keep in mind that a rolling pack can be challenging to carry upstairs. It may also be hard to roll over bumpy ground or in snow.

Furthermore, the American Chiropractic Association recommends using rolling backpacks on a limited basis for students who are physically unable to carry a backpack. This is because it may clutter school hallways, resulting in dangerous trips, and falls.

Think about how your child will need to use the bag. In some cases, it may not be the best choice. Consider talking to your child’s teacher and/or administrative staff about how they can best accommodate your child’s needs.

Wearing a backpack safely

Safe backpack use begins with conversations – and some assistance – at home. Review these must-do safety tips with them until you’re sure they’re routinely putting them into practice:

  • Pack light. The backpack should be at a comfortable weight. Weigh it on a scale. When full, it shouldn’t be more than five-to-ten percent of your child’s body weight.
  • Organize the backpack well. Place heavy items low, towards the center of the backpack.
  • Only carry what’s needed. Make sure your children know not to carry a whole day’s worth of books and supplies at once. Tell them to make trips to their locker during the day.
  • Use both shoulder straps. Slinging a backpack over one shoulder may seem “cool,” but it can strain muscles and increase spine curvature, so be sure kids always use both shoulder straps. Explain that using both straps helps to spread the weight and promote good posture.
  • Use care when putting on and taking off backpacks. Children should avoid twisting too much. When picking up a heavy backpack, bend with both knees – never at the waist.
  • Place the backpack evenly in the middle of the back. Backpacks should sit about two inches above the waist. This will help prevent awkward postures.
  • Tighten and loosen the straps as needed. The straps should be snug while wearing the pack. This helps hold the pack firmly to the body. Teach your child how to loosen the straps before removing his/her pack to make it easier to take off.

If your child has pain from a backpack

  • Talk with your child about any discomfort he or she is feeling. If your child has pain or numbness in the arm or legs from the bag, talk with the school about ways to lighten the load.
  • Make sure the school allows trips to lockers as needed. If the pain continues, talk with your child’s healthcare provider.
  • Observe as your child puts on/removes the backpack. Go over safe backpack practices as needed.

Have You Scheduled a Well-Child Visit?

Contact your pediatrician to schedule your child's next well-care visit. If you don’t have a pediatrician, use our online Find-A-Doctor tool or call our Ask-A-Nurse line at 231-935-0951. Our team will help you find a qualified pediatrician near you.

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Have health questions about your little ones…or you? Ask-A-Nurse.

Questions about teething? Fevers? Earaches? COVID-19 and kids? Or, any general health questions for you too! If you have questions, call Munson Healthcare Ask-a-Nurse at 231-935-0951 to discuss symptoms. Our registered nurses are answering health questions for all ages 24 hours a day at no charge to you.

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