Backpack Safety Tips

By Ken Kaczka, PT, DPT

Why is Backpack Safety Important?

Practicing backpack safety is crucial for preventing unwanted orthopedic injuries that commonly arise when adolescents go back to school. Often times, following some simple tips and making certain adjustments to your child’s backpack can ensure their health and safety.

Image of 6 students from behind walking to the school with backpacks on

What are Heavy Backpacks Doing to Kids

Backpacks can often be too heavy which places excessive load through a child’s neck and shoulders, causing poor posture for prolonged periods. This type of strain on the body can lead to injury. Some simple changes can help prevent poor, rounded shoulders, posture and excessive loading on your child’s growing bodies. Below you will find 5 key tips to implement this school year to keep your child safe at school.

5 Tips to Improve Backpack Safety

  1. Keep both backpack straps on at all times -Wearing only one strap on the shoulder for prolonged periods places too much force on the shoulder musculature and joints on one side of the body. Wearing both straps allows for more equally distributed weight bearing and allows more muscular control by recruiting use of more muscles on both sides of the body. Make sure to have your kids use both straps on the bag.
  2. Keep the load light – Research generally supports that a child’s backpack should weigh no more than about 10% of your child’s body weight. This means that if your child weighs 90 lbs, make sure the bag weighs around 9 lbs maximum. This is an easily measurable and adjustable factor that can make a huge difference for your child’s overall health. Another tip is to use a rolling bag instead of a traditional backpack if possible.
  3. Keep the bag in the mid to upper back region – When the straps are too loose, the backpack will hang too low on your child’s back. This can place unwanted stress on the spine. It is best practice to tighten your child’s straps so that the bulk of the bag is positioned on the largest muscles in the middle of back. It is also crucial to keep the straps tighter so the bag itself is securely positioned against your child’s back.
  4. Keep proper form when lifting the bag – When bending and stooping to lift the backpack off the floor, avoid excessive twisting motions through the lower back. Try to square your body up, keep a neutral spine, and bend your knees. Using your leg muscles helps to protect your lower back when lifting the bag. Your child will be lifting the bag at school rather frequently, it’s important for them to have adequate strength and mechanics to lift the bag properly.
  5. Seek advice from a physical therapist – If you have any concerns about your child’s backpack, postural alignment, or concerns about muscular imbalances, seek advice from a licensed physical therapist. A physical therapist from JOI can help provide solutions to ensure that your child has a healthy, happy school year.

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