Backpack Safety Tips

Don’t let your child’s pack be a pain in the back.

They’re fun, they’re fashionable, they’re at the top of almost every back-to-school shopping list. As convenient and necessary as they are, backpacks can also cause pain and strain muscles if not chosen and used properly.

To avoid health problems now and in the future, Wake Forest Baptist Physical Therapist Sandra LaComa says parents should look for the following features when choosing a backpack:

  • Light-weight materials won’t add to the already heavy load of books and supplies. Lift the weight of the backpack as you are comparing styles. Leather may look nice, but canvas or nylon is going to weigh less.
  • Wide padded shoulder straps will help distribute the weight and not dig into the shoulders as much as skinny straps. The frame of the backpack should be in proportion to your child’s frame with the straps resting in the middle of the shoulder. Straps should not be so wide that they slip off the shoulders or cut into the neck muscles.
  • Waist belts take some of the weight off the back and transfer it to the hips. Some backpacks also have a chest strap for additional adjustability.
  • Handy compartments can help distribute the weight evenly. Too many compartments however may add weight to the frame of the pack and, for some children, may tend to add clutter and places to lose things.
  • Wheels are great for college campuses or for students who walk to school or a bus stop. The weight is increased however and most public schools do not allow rolling backpacks in the hallways due to safety concerns.

Experts say a child shouldn’t carry more than 10 percent of his or her weight. According to The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) about 55 percent of students carry a backpack that is heavier than the recommended guideline. “The primary goal is to keep the load as light as possible to reduce the postural strain,” LaComa said. After you’ve made your choice, LaComa stresses the importance of packing the backpack safely.

  • Leave unneeded books at home or school. Ask your child’s school for extra copies of books that can be kept at home to eliminate carrying them back and forth. Many textbooks are now available online.
  • Never bend to pick up a heavy backpack. Set it on a table or desk and step into the straps.
  • Watch for the tilt. Make sure your child stands up straight while wearing a backpack. If he or she must lean forward, the pack is too heavy.