Safe backpack strategies for kids

September 04, 2015 | by Uzma Muneer, D.O.
Categories: Healthy Driven Moms

It’s School Backpack Awareness Month, and as many moms prepare for the school year ahead, your child’s backpack is not something to take lightly. School backpacks come in different sizes for different ages. When used properly, most backpacks are a handy tool for kids. But not all backpacks are created equal. Those that are too heavy or worn incorrectly can cause:

  • Strained muscles and joints
  • Back, shoulder and neck pain
  • Poor posture
  • Tingling, numbness and weakness in the arms and hand
  • An increased risk of falling, particularly on stairs
  • Injuries to others (from tripping over large packs or turning/moving through tight spaces)

What can moms do to practice safe backpack strategies? First, the backpack’s weight should be in proportion to your child’s body weight, and should be evenly distributed across your child’s body. Most healthcare professionals recommend that a child’s backpack should weight no more than 10-15 percent of his or her body weight. This means if your child weights 80 pounds, his or her backpack shouldn’t be heavier than about 8-12 pounds.

Here are some more safe backpacking tips to keep in mind:

  • Choose the right size pack for your child, and opt for lightweight canvas over leather.
  • Load the heaviest items, such as textbooks, closest to your child’s back and arrange items so they won’t slide around.
  • Less is better. Make sure the items in the backpack are necessary on a day-by-day basis.
  • Select a pack with a padded back and wide, well-padded shoulder straps, and adjust the straps so the pack fits snugly on your child’s back. A backpack with a waist belt is even better.
  • Encourage your child to use both shoulder straps to distribute the weight of the backpack evenly.
  • The bottom of the pack should rest evenly in the curve of your child’s lower back, never more than four inches below the waistline.
  • Remind your child to bend at the knees when lifting the backpack.
  • If the backpack is consistently too heavy, your child can hand carry items, or consider a book bag on wheels if the school permits it (although wheeled packs are difficult on stairs and in snow).

You may need to adjust your child’s backpack and reduce the weight if he or she struggles to get the backpack on or off or leans forward to carry it. If your child has back pain or numbness or weakness in the arms or legs, talk with your doctor or physical therapist.

The American Occupational Association offers a handout that outlines Backpack Strategies for Parents and Students.

Learn more about rehabilitation services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

 Uzma Muneer, DO, is a pediatrician at Elmhurst Clinic.

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