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Back to School: Backpack Tips

child with backpack

It’s that time of year again, when children are carrying their books and school supplies to and from school in a backpack. While carrying a backpack to school every morning may seem harmless enough, it can cause back, neck, and/or shoulder pain for students who don’t pack and carry their backpacks correctly. The goal of this blog is to help your child choose, wear, and pack his or her bag to prevent injuries according to the American Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy Associations’ recommendations.

Buying Backpack Tips:

  • Choose the right size pack for your child with only enough room for necessary items
  • Choose safety and comfort features, such as wide and well-padded shoulder straps as well as a soft or padded back, to reduce pressure and enhance comfort
  • Hip and chest belts are essential to transfer backpack weight from the back and shoulders to the hips and torso, especially for students carrying a lot of books
  • Lightweight packs with multiple compartments help distribute the weight and keep items easily accessible
  • Compression straps on the sides and/or bottom of the backpack stabilize and compress the contents so that the items are close to the back, causing less stress on a child’s back
  • Reflective material makes it easier for drivers to see the child while walking at night or in the early morning
  • The height of the pack should extend from about 2 inches below the shoulder blades to the waist level

Backpack Wearing Tips:

  • Both shoulder straps should always be worn to help evenly distribute the weight of the backpack. Wearing a pack over one shoulder can cause your child to lean to one side causing poor postural alignment and pain or discomfort
  • Adjust the backpack shoulder straps to fit snugly along your child’s back
  • Wearing the waist belt can help take the strain off the neck and shoulder muscles and improve overall balance
  • The bottom of a child’s backpack should not extend below the low back

Loading Backpack Tips:

  • The backpack should weigh less than 10-15% of the child’s body weight. If the child’s pack must exceed that weight, it may be beneficial to use a backpack with wheels to protect from back pain/strain or injury
  • The heaviest items, like textbooks or laptops, should be placed towards the back of the pack
  • Arrange books and materials so they won’t slide around
  • Clean out the backpack daily and re-pack only necessary items each day
  • If the backpack is too heavy investigate getting one set of books to be kept at school and one set of books to be kept at home. The load can also be decreased by hand-carrying a book.
  • Remember: If the backpack feels too heavy, it probably is!

Updated August 22, 2019

Jaclyn Graff, pediatric physical therapist

Jaclyn Graff PT, DPT is a pediatric physical therapist at the CA Technologies Rehabilitation Center within Hospital for Special Surgery’s Lerner Children’s Pavilion.

The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.