Backpacks: Take A Load Off To Prevent Pain Or Injury

Backpacks are a bright spot of the back-to-school season, signaling school has resumed. They come in an array of colors, designs, shapes, and sizes for the smallest children in preschool to the teens and young adults in high school.

Many of today’s backpacks have multiple compartments to help students stay organized while carrying more items than ever. They are also made with a variety of ultra-sturdy materials that can withstand heavy loads after being filled to the brim with all the necessities for a long day of learning.

Therein lies the problem.

An oversized backpack that children carry to and from school can cause pain in the neck, shoulders, and back. Over time, permanent physical problems may arise.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (Academy) suggests a child’s backpack should never weigh more than 10 to 20 percent of the child’s total body weight. So, a 50-pound child, for example, should not be carrying more than 10 pounds in their backpack. Consider that a gallon of milk weighs about 9 pounds and you start to understand the strain it can put on a small child. Additionally, the Academy advises parents to go through the backpack often with their child to remove unnecessary items to lighten the load.

If parents see that a child is having difficulty putting on or taking off a backpack, notice red strap marks on the rear area of a child’s shoulders, or notice a change in their posture while wearing a backpack, these are telltale signs that a backpack may be too heavy for the child and parents should take action. The American Occupational Therapy Association has several helpful suggestions to ensure a child’s school days are not a pain in the neck:

Use different compartments and pockets to distribute weight evenly. Arrange heavier items closer to the back center of the backpack and lighter items in the front of the backpack.

Teach your child how to prevent back injury: Pick up the backpack by bending and lifting at the knees instead of at the waist.

Always use both shoulder straps to prevent injury. Adjust the sternum (chest) strap and secure the hip belt (if there is one). To ensure a proper fit, the backpack should rest snugly against the back and should not extend up past the child’s shoulders or below the top of the hipbones.

If a child complains of neck, back, or shoulder pain, it is best to have them examined by a licensed professional for a thorough and proper diagnosis. Such professionals are licensed through the Department of Consumer AffairsBoard of Chiropractic Examiners, Board of Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy Board, the Osteopathic Medical Board, and the Medical Board of California.

For more information, visit


American Academy of Pediatrics: Back to School Tips on Getting the Year Off to a Good Start
American Occupational Therapy Association: 1, 2, 3’s of Basic Backpack Wearing


Reprinted from Consumer Connection Magazine – Fall 2017 “Backpacks: Take A Load Off To Prevent Pain Or Injury.” To browse issues of Consumer Connection Magazine, click here.

Click here to read the fall 2017 issue of Consumer Connection Magazine.

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