Five Tips to Avoid Backpack Injuries
Does your child’s backpack seem like it’s filled with a pile of bricks? Does it seem bigger than she is?
It might be time to take another look at that backpack—whether your child is in first grade or 12th grade. Backpacks that are too heavy, too big, or carried improperly can contribute to back, neck and shoulder pain.
Fortunately, there are easy ways to help your child avoid that kind of discomfort by following some simple guidelines, according to Krissa George, MD, of Einstein Physicians Pennypack.
Following the guidelines is important at all ages. While girls and young children are most at risk of injury, says Dr. George, even teens can develop pain from overburdened backpacks. They’re growing, their spines are developing, and a backpack that is too heavy and too big can cause injury.
Follow these tips to choose and use the perfect backpack:
Make sure the filled backpack is an optimal weight. “The recommendations are no more than 10 to 15 percent of a child’s body weight,” says Dr. George. “That would eliminate the risk of injury to the back, neck or shoulder. If you had a typical 4th grader, weighing 60 pounds, the weight of the pack should be six to nine pounds—which isn’t a lot.”
To determine whether your child’s backpack is in the safe limit, fill the bag with all the books, papers and supplies your child would typically carry to school, and weigh it on a household scale. That would give you a sense of whether your child’s backpack is within the safe limits, says Dr. George.
Look for a bag with a waist strap. “These help to distribute the weight more evenly across the body to maintain balance,” says Dr. George. “It takes some strain off the sensitive neck and shoulder muscles.”
Use a bag with a padded back. It’s just more comfortable.
Make sure that the backpack doesn’t extend more than two inches below the shoulder blades. It should also not extend below the level of the waist, Dr. George advises. “If it’s extending beyond the waist or down to the buttocks,” she says, “then that’s too low.”
Tote backpacks on both shoulders. Shoulder straps—padded straps, in particular, not thin straps, which dig into the shoulders—help distribute the weight evenly. Don’t carry backpacks by one strap slung over one shoulder. And because backpacks have two straps, rather than one, they’re a safer bet than messenger bags, says Dr. George.
“Messenger bags tend to put more strain on one shoulder,” she adds. “If backpacks are used properly, they’re actually the safest and cause the least amount of injury. They come in different fabrics and shapes, with lots of different colors and decorations. They do have a lot of different compartments in them, which is nice. It’s a neat way for kids to express their style.”