Backpack Safety for Back-to-School Season


This fall, kids everywhere are heading back to class with their own sense of fashion on display. Whether your student sports a message tee, cargo shorts or a school uniform, one must-have accessory is a backpack — soon to be overflowing with school essentials (like snacks, earbuds and perhaps even a book or two).

For more than 90 percent of the world’s schoolchildren, backpacks are a school-day staple, toting everything from lunches to laptops. But many health professionals are concerned about the injuries they can cause. According to Dr. Andrew Casden, an orthopedic surgeon and associate director of Beth Israel’s Spine Institute in New York City, overloaded backpacks can cause posture problems, back and shoulder pain, fatigue, muscle irritation, and tiny muscle tears.

Why is backpack safety important?

Pack injuries are no walk in the park; repetitive stress injuries caused by backpack misuse can result in costly doctor visits and even missed school. Backpack Safety America reports that 89 percent of chiropractors have seen children for backpack-related pain.

Researchers say that many kids carry packs that are too heavy, but that’s only part of the problem. How a backpack is worn is just as important as its weight, says Dr. Henry Chambers of Rady Children’s Hospital San Diego. Read on for backpack basics to help your child go back to school without pain.

Weighty matters

Family physician Darin Charles of Methodist Mansfield Medical Center in Mansfield, Texas, recommends that backpack weight should not exceed 20 percent of the student’s body weight. That means 12 pounds is the maximum pack weight for a 60-pound child. Leaning forward while wearing the pack or struggling to take it off are signs that your child’s backpack is probably too heavy.

Proper position

Pack weight isn’t the only factor in back pain; backpack position is also important. Backpacks should be worn above the hips, researchers say, with maximum contact between the upper body and the pack.

“The optimal position for wearing a backpack is high on the upper-back, with straps over both shoulders,” says Alan Hargens, a professor in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at the UC San Diego School of Medicine. “Kids who wear their backpacks in the more stylish lower back position, or only use one strap, may suffer shoulder pain and posture problems.”

Strap happy

Look for a pack with wide, padded shoulder straps to help with weight distribution. Waist and chest straps are an added bonus, because they can help distribute the weight load (as long as your child actually uses them!).  

Baggage check

Is extra cargo dragging down their backpack? According to researchers, kids often carry unnecessary items that add to the pack’s weight, like laptops and music players. Even excess paper can add up to an overburdened bag. Do periodic pack clean-outs to cut the excess.

Homeroom zoom

Peek inside the hallways of many of today’s schools and you’ll probably see a few backpacks on wheels. When large textbooks or laptops are a daily necessity, wheeled backpacks allow kids to tote heavy loads without straining their backs.

Changing kids’ backpack habits can be tough, requiring effort and encouragement from parents as well as cooperation from teachers and school staff. Ultimately, most parents can’t dictate what kids will and won’t carry in their overstuffed packs. But parents can ease their burden by encouraging healthy backpack habits, and prepare kids for a school year that’s successful and pain-free.

Malia Jacobson is an award-winning health and parenting journalist and mom of three. Her latest book is “Sleep Tight, Every Night: Helping Toddlers and Preschoolers Sleep Well Without Tears, Tricks, or Tirades.”


Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Related Content

8 Scenic Drives in North Carolina for Families

North Carolina is home to many scenic routes for families who enjoy road-tripping.

Family-Friendly Fall Festivals in North Carolina

Venture out of town for a day trip or weekend getaway to enjoy one or more of the state's best fests.

Kid-Friendly Music Festivals in the Carolinas

Regional music festivals offer fun for the whole family.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Newsletter Sign-Up

Stay connected to what's going on for kids and families in the Triad by signing up for our FREE e-newsletters!


Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Annual Guides

Education Guide

The all-new 2015-2016 Education Guide is packed with everything parents need to know to navigate more than 500 education options and resources in the Triad, including area preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools and academic resources.

GPS [Go. Play. See]

It's your complete family guide to Triad living. Parents are busy and on the go. Use this guide to help you explore all this great area offers for families in Winston-Salem, Greensboro, High Point and surrounding communities.

Exceptional Child

For parents of kids with special needs, finding help and support can be challenging. We've compiled valuable resources for Triad parents in our latest annual publication, Exceptional Child, which is also available as a digital guide.