Back-to-School Backpack Safety

Improper backpack positioning and posture can lead to problems for your little ones. Learn the proper way to carry a backpack.
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It is that time of year again, when the kiddo’s return to school with the excitement of a new year ahead. The supplies are purchased to get them ready for the new requirements of their grade level and inevitably, a backpack is chosen, old or new, to carry those items with them. As parents we want to give our kids every chance possible to help them succeed. Education is very important to youth child with heavy backpackdevelopment and the last thing we want are challenges making that process more difficult. A properly positioned pack, that is weighted properly, can reduce the impediments a heavy bag can have on the learning process.

On the third Wednesday of each September, we celebrate the American Occupational Therapy Association’s National School Backpack Awareness Day. In AOTA’s quest to reduce pain caused by improper backpack or handbag usage, they offer tips that you can reference to make sure you are minimizing your risk.

Although many factors can lead to back pain — increased participation in sports or exercise, poor posture while sitting, and long periods of inactivity — some kids have backaches because they’re lugging around their entire locker’s worth of books, school supplies, and assorted personal items all day long. But most doctors recommend that kids carry no more than 10% to 15% of their body weight in their packs.

When a heavy weight, such as a backpack filled with books, is incorrectly placed on the shoulders, the weight’s force can pull a child backward. To compensate, a child may bend forward at the hips or arch the back, which can cause the spine to compress unnaturally. The heavy weight might cause some kids to develop shoulder, neck, and back pain.

Kids who wear their backpacks over just one shoulder — as many do, because they think it looks better or just feels easier — may end up leaning to one side to offset the extra weight. They might develop lower and upper back pain and strain their shoulders and neck.

right and wrong backpacks

The American Academy of Pediatrics
 (AAP) is a great resource. They offer back To school tips and recommendations for backpack safety. AAP offers guidance and recommends parents look for the following when choosing the correct backpack:

  • A lightweight pack that doesn’t add a lot of weight to your child’s load (for example, even though leather packs look cool, they weigh more than traditional canvas backpacks).
  • Wide, padded shoulder straps; straps that are too narrow can dig into shoulders.
  • A padded back, which not only provides increased comfort, but also protects kids from being poked by sharp edges on objects (pencils, rulers, notebooks, etc.) inside the pack.
  • A waist belt, which helps to distribute the weight more evenly across the body.
  • Multiple compartments, which can help distribute the weight more evenly.
  • Although packs on wheels (which look like small, overhead luggage bags) may be good options for students who have to lug around really heavy loads, they’re extremely difficult to pull up stairs and to roll through snow. Check with the school before buying a rolling pack; many schools don’t allow them because they can pose a tripping hazard in the hallways.

Here’s to a great start to the school year and one that is full of learning, fun, and activity for our kids. Chiropractic is a team approach to better health.


S. Dowshen, MD; Backpack Safety, Parent Positive Learning Series; Newsletter August, 2013.

The American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc; AOTA’s National School Backpack Awareness Day, September 18, 2013; Backpack Day Handouts.

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