School Backpack Safety

Backpack safety is important for children, teens, and college students. A traditional backpack has 2 straps worn over the shoulders. Some backpacks may also come with wheels. Items such as papers, lunch, books, laptops, mobile devices, and instruments, can cause a backpack to become too heavy. This can lead to chronic pain in the muscles and joints.

INJURIES CAUSED BY BACKPACKS

Backpacks that are too heavy, not worn properly, or have uneven weight distribution can lead to: 

  • Strained muscles in the neck, back, or shoulder. This can cause pain and weakness.

  • Joint pain.

  • Nerve and circulation issues such as tingling and numbness.

  • Problems with posture.

  • Tripping or falling, from being off-balance. 

CHOOSING A BACKPACK

Avoid:

  • Bags with skinny straps. These straps can dig into the shoulders.

  • One-shoulder bags. These bags can cause you to lean to one side.

  • Briefcase style bags. These bags can pull too much on the arms and shoulders.

Consider a backpack that offers: 

  • Two wide, padded shoulder straps.

  • A padded back.

  • A waist strap with a buckle.

  • Wheels so the backpack can be pushed or pulled on the ground.

  • Lightweight fabric.

  • Lightweight construction.

INJURY PREVENTION

Preventing injury is a daily practice. Review these guidelines with your child regularly (especially at the start of each school year) to prevent injury.

  • Use both shoulder straps when carrying a backpack. Backpacks with 2 shoulder straps distribute the weight evenly across the back of the body and allow the strongest muscles of the back and abdomen to do the work.

  • Tighten the straps so that the backpack lays snug on the back. Use the waist and chest strap if available. The backpack should not hang more than 4 inches below the waist.

  • Only carry necessary items. Remove items when you no longer need them.

  • Keep your backpack well organized. Use the different compartments in the backpack to keep the weight distributed evenly. Keep the heaviest items in the middle of the backpack.

  • Lift the backpack properly by bending at the knees. Separate the feet, bend, and tighten the stomach muscles. Always lift the pack with both hands.

  • Build muscle strength in the arms, shoulders, abdomen, and back. Your caregiver can offer exercise recommendations.

  • If your child has a rolling backpack, teach him or her how to bend at the knees and use both hands when picking it up. Teach your child to safely and slowly sling it over the back for carrying it up stairs and through snow.

  • Remember to tell young children that backpacks can be dangerous, and they can hurt others if they are slung around in a crowded area. 

  • Backpacks should never weigh more than 10% to 15% of the child's weight. For example, if your child weighs 70 pounds, your child's backpack should weigh no more than 7 to 10 pounds. Too much weight puts stress on the spine and shoulders, and can affect balance while walking or riding a bike.

  • Consider a smaller backpack. The bigger the backpack, the more items your child is likely to store in it.

Other tips that can help prevent injury include:

  • Talking with school staff about lightening the backpack load.

  • Asking if a second set of textbooks can be kept at home. Try to rent or purchase a second set for home or dorm use.

  • Making sure children and teens have enough time at lockers to unload.

  • Encouraging your child to do a little homework each night, instead of carrying all his or her notebooks home at one time.

SEEK MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • Your child has back, neck, or shoulder pain.

  • Your child develops numbness, tingling, or weakness in the arms or legs.