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Feb 07, 2017 / Scoliosis & Spine

Backpack Safety Tips

Backpacks are a popular and practical way for children and teenagers to carry school books and supplies. Compared to shoulder bags, messenger bags or purses, backpacks are better because the back and the abdominal muscles support the weight of the backpack. When a backpack is worn correctly, the weight is evenly distributed across the body so shoulder, neck and back injuries are less common.

If a backpack is too heavy or is used incorrectly, it can cause muscle joint strain and cause back pain. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children do not carry more than 10-15 percent of their body weight in their backpacks. For example, if a child weighs 80 pounds, a backpack should not weigh more than 8 to 12 pounds. Although backpacks can lead to poor posture when they are not worn correctly, heavy backpacks do not cause scoliosis.

Problems Backpacks Can Pose

Many different things can lead to back pain. These include increased participation in sports or exercise, poor posture when sitting and long periods of inactivity. Some children can have back pain because of a heavy backpack. When a heavy backpack is placed incorrectly on the shoulders, the force of the weight can pull a child backward. The child then compensates by bending forward at the hips or by arching the back. This can cause shoulder, neck and back pain.

Wearing a backpack over just one shoulder may cause a child to lean to one side. This may result in shoulder, neck or back discomfort. Backpacks with tight, narrow straps can dig into the shoulders, causing numbness, tingling or weakness in the arms. Also, a heavy backpack can cause increased risk of falling by putting the child off balance.

Choosing the Right Backpack

  • Wide, padded shoulder straps
  • Two shoulder straps
  • Padded back
  • Lightweight backpack

Injury Prevention

  • Always use both shoulder straps.
  • Pack light (10-15 percent of child’s weight)
  • Remove unneeded items
  • Lift properly by bending at the knees and grabbing the pack with two hands.

Adapted from American Academy of Pediatrics information on Backpack Safety, 11/2015.

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