Have Your Child’s Back – Backpack Safety

School is just around the corner, and you’ve probably been compiling those seemingly endless lists of what your child needs to go back to school. That list probably includes a backpack, and a full one at that. Between heavy books, supplies and electronics, many children are feeling the pain. In fact, according to the American Occupational Therapy Association (aota.org), more than 55 percent of students carry a backpack that is too heavy.

While backpacks are designed to better distribute weight than single-shoulder solutions, their generous capacity invites abuse. Not only can an overstuffed backpack cause pain in the back, neck, and shoulders, it can lead to the development of poor posture.

Here are some practical backpack tips courtesy of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC):

  1. Choose a lightweight backpack. The best materials are both lightweight and durable. 
  1. Check that you have adequate padding. Select a backpack with wide, padded straps as well as additional padding that rests against your child’s back to provide additional support and comfort. 
  1. Look for a waist strap. Often overlooked, a waist strap can be a real asset by holding the contents more securely against your child’s body, preventing shifting and helping better maintain balance. 
  1. Select a model with multiple compartments. Compartments make it easier to both organize and evenly distribute contents. UPMC recommends the heaviest items be packed low and centered. 
  1. Make sure the backpack is not overloaded. UPMC recommends that a child’s backpack weigh no more than 15 percent of his/her total body weight. (That’s a maximum of 7 pounds for a child of 48 pounds.) Beware of “weight creep” and regularly check your child’s backpack for excess weight, especially if you hear complaints of back pain or discomfort. 
  1. Check the fit and the wear. Both straps should be worn at all times to keep the weight evenly distributed and your child centered, greatly lessening the chances of pain or losing balance.


If your child complains of chronic back pain or discomfort even after you’ve taken these precautions, don’t hesitate to follow up with your child’s doctor.


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