At the top of almost every back-to-school supply list is the backpack. It is a convenient and practical way to carry books, pens, pencils, and other required school supplies while keeping hands free. With all the colors and designs available, some even consider the backpack to be a fun fashion accessory.
As helpful and fun as they are, backpacks can also cause pain and injury if not used properly. The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) estimates that about 55 percent of students are carrying backpacks heavier than the recommended guideline, leading to increased backpack-related incidents in recent years.
An Italian study found that the average child carries a backpack that is the equivalent of a 39-pound pack for a 176-pound man, or a 29-pound load for a 132-pound woman. Sixty percent of those children reported back pain.
Health Issues Caused by Backpacks
- Backpacks that are worn improperly or are too heavy for children and teens can cause neck, back, and shoulder pain, as well as problems with muscles and joints.
- Too much weight can force a child to lean backward and attempt to compensate by bending forward at the hips. Backpacks slung over one shoulder can cause leaning to one side. Correct posture becomes difficult.
- Backpacks with narrow straps that dig into the shoulders can interfere with circulation and nerves, potentially contributing tingling, numbness, and weakness of the arms and hands. Red marks on the skin are a clue that the child is carrying too much weight.
- Carrying overloaded backpacks changes the way children walk, causing tripping and increasing the risk of falls.
Next: How to Choose It, Pack It, Wear It
How to Choose a Backpack
- Make sure the backpack itself is lightweight.
- Look for two wide, padded shoulder straps. A waist belt may be more stable.
- Multiple compartments will allow the weight of the contents to be distributed more evenly.
- Ergonomically designed backpacks are best.
How to Pack a Backpack
- The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) recommends limiting the backpack’s weight to no more than 10 percent of the child’s body weight.
- Try to distribute weight evenly, using all compartments.
- Pack only essential supplies… leave non-essential items at home or at school.
How to Wear a Backpack
- Use both shoulder straps.
- Tighten the straps so the pack fits close to the body.
- The backpack should never hang more than four inches below the waistline, says the ACA.
- American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons
- American Academy of Pediatrics
- American Chiropractic Association
- American Occupational Therapy Association
- National Institutes of Health
- National Safety Council