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Back to School: Backpack Tips

child with backpack

It’s that time of year again, when more than 40 million 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, 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 Occupational Therapy Association’s 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 padded and wide shoulder straps and 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 bottom of the pack should not be lower than 4″ below the waist
  • Look for well-padded shoulder straps to avoid strain or pressure to any of the multiple neck and shoulder nerves and blood vessels

Backpack Wearing Tips:

  • Both shoulder straps should always be worn. Wearing a pack over one shoulder can cause your child to lean to one side, curving the spine and causing pain or discomfort.
  • Adjust the shoulder straps for the pack to fit snugly along your child’s back
  • Wear the waist belt to distribute the pack’s weight more evenly
  • The bottom of a child’s backpack should rest in the curve of the low back

Loading Backpack Tips:

  • The backpack should not be more than 10-15% of your body weight. This means a child who weighs 75 pounds shouldn’t wear a backpack heavier than 11 pounds.
  • 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
  • Pack only necessary daily items
  • On days the backpack is too heavy, decrease the load by hand-carrying a book
  • If the school requires multiple books and your child’s backpack is too heavy, consider using a rolling backpack

Lisa Drefus is a pediatric physical therapist at the CA Technologies Rehabilitation Center within Hospital for Special Surgery’s Lerner Children’s Pavilion.

Topics: Pediatrics
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.