Back to School Backpack Safety

A diagram showing the impact of heavy backpacks on children's bodies, highlighting areas of strain such as neck, shoulders, back, and hips. It also provides tips on proper backpack use and weight limits.

Backpacks should not weigh more than 10 – 15% of a child’s body weight!

The Back to School backpack is a very emotional decision for kids. It should also be a well thought out decision by parents. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission shared that annual backpack related injuries send 5,000 children to the Emergency Department and more than 14,000 kids are treated for backpack-related injuries.

The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons has this to say about backpacks, “Improperly used backpacks may injure muscles and joints and can lead to severe back, neck, and shoulder pain, as well as posture problems. It’s easy to spot symptoms of a load that’s too hefty for your child. If kids grunt when putting on or taking off the backpack, have red marks on their shoulders from the straps, or if they complain that their shoulders, arms or fingers are “falling asleep,” those packs might just be too heavy.”

Heavy backpacks can cause injury to your child’s body

The injuries associated with heavy backpacks can include: muscle spasms, poor posture, spine injury and strain leading to headaches. An overloaded backpack not only puts too much pressure on the shoulders, it puts extra weight on the hips, knees and ankles too. The American Chiropractic Association recommends that “backpacks should weigh no more the 10-15 percent of a child’s weight.” That’s not much weight when you consider everything your child needs to take to school every day.

Dr. Mark Wiesner and Dr. Patti Aldridge, Estes Park Health Pediatrics, encourage you to bring your child in for their well-child visit. During that visit the physicians can help evaluate if your child has core weakness, tight back muscles and/or poor posture. A heavy backpack will only make these issues worse for your child.

What type of backpack should you buy for your child?

Your best choice would probably be to go to a sporting goods store and have one of the hiking professionals fit a backpack for your student. We understand that many children would rather have the most popular super hero/heroine backpack, but perhaps a few strategically placed stickers can help solve that dilemma.  So, what should you look for when choosing a backpack?

  • Soft, lightweight material without ridges that could rub and be uncomfortable.
  • Thick, adjustable shoulder straps to provide better support and weight distribution. Encourage your child to wear both straps, and the chest and waist strap if those are available on the backpack.
  • Proper backpack proportion to your child’s size. The backpack should be no wider that child’s torso, top of the pack at the shoulders and the bottom of the pack no more than two inches below the waist.

How parents can help lighten the load!

Estes Park Health Orthopedic Surgeons, Dr. Aaron Florence and Dr. Michael Grant, encourage you to help your student pack smart and unpack often to ensure your child’s backpack weight remains manageable. (You might also find those missing assignments.) You can show your child the best way to pack their backpack by packing the heaviest items first and closest to the bottom and center of the bag and use all compartments of the backpack to help distribute the weight evenly. Work with your student to determine if your child needs to take every book, every day. Many text books can weigh up to four pounds each and will create quite a strain if all books are always carried by your child.

Estes Park Health hopes you find the perfect backpack to help your kids have their best, healthiest school year yet.