Tips for Choosing and Wearing Backpacks at School

Tips for Choosing and Wearing Backpacks at School

It’s that time of year again – kids are heading back to school and carting their many supplies to and fro. When used correctly, backpacks are the safest and most efficient way to carry something heavy and distribute the weight among some of the body’s strongest muscles.

However, this doesn’t always happen – I’ve seen some pretty hefty loads, even on kindergartners!

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, an estimated 7,800 kids from 5-18 years old were treated in emergency rooms for injuries related to backpacks in 2017. Believe it or not, the biggest cause of these injuries didn’t involve wearing the backpack. They happened when they weren’t stored properly or when they were swung to be placed on the back. Only about 8% of injuries involved improper wear.  

However, I think it’s important for parents to help their children choose the right backpack and to wear it properly to prevent injuries and promote comfortability. Here are a few tips to help that happen:

When Choosing A Backpack

When choosing a backpack, pick one that:

  • Is lightweight.
  • Has two wide and padded shoulder straps (avoid using backpacks that have thin, string-like straps/draw-strings).
  • Has a cushioned back and waist straps (if your child is walking long distances).
  • Rolls if your child has to cart a particularly heavy load. But keep in mind that it may be more challenging to navigate the terrain – schools are not designed like airports! Further, rolling backpacks are usually 2-3 pounds heavier than regular backpacks, so it may be more difficult to lift them.
  • Has reflective material to help your child to be seen.

When Wearing A Backpack

When wearing a backpack, encourage your children to:

  • Wear both shoulder straps, especially on longer trips.
  • Wear the straps at a length that keeps the backpack sitting above the lower back.
  • Limit the weight of the backpack to no more than 15% of their body weight.
  • Organize their supplies so that the heaviest items are closest to the center of their backs.
  • Utilize all compartments within the backpack to help distribute the weight.
  • Limit carrying the entire day’s contents at the same time by making frequent stops at their lockers.
  • Limit unnecessary items, which add to the overall weight.
  • Lift using their legs, bending both knees.
  • Properly store it so that it is not a tripping hazard.

Watch out for signs throughout the year that your child’s backpack might be too heavy. These include red marks on the shoulders, pain or numbness in the back or shoulders, and slouching or leaning forward. If your child complains of persistent back pain, contact your child’s main doctor.

Our division of orthopedics provides surgical and non-surgical approaches for children of all ages with medical conditions or injuries affecting the bones, joints and muscles. To learn more, call 513-636-4785 or email orthocomments@cchmc.org.

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Eric J. Wall, MD

About the Author: Eric J. Wall, MD

Dr. Wall is the director of orthopaedic sports medicine at Cincinnati Children's. His clinical interests include sports-related injuries, endoscopic pelvic surgery, osteochondritis dissecans, non-fusion scoliosis correction, orthopaedic basic science research and orthopaedic management of myelomeningocele.

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