Backpack Safety

Backpacks are a popular and practical way for children and teenagers to carry schoolbooks and supplies. When used correctly, backpacks can be a good way to carry the necessities of the school day. They are designed to distribute the weight of the load among some of the body's strongest muscles. Backpacks that are too heavy or are worn incorrectly can cause problems for children and teenagers. Improperly used backpacks may injure muscles and joints. This can lead to severe back, neck, and shoulder pain, as well as posture problems. These guidelines can help your family use backpacks safely.

Choose the right backpack

  • Wide, padded shoulder straps. Narrow straps can dig into shoulders. This can cause pain and restrict circulation.
  • Two shoulder straps. Backpacks with one shoulder strap that runs across the body cannot distribute weight evenly.
  • Padded back. A padded back protects against sharp edges on objects inside the pack and increases comfort.
  • Waist strap. A waist strap can distribute the weight of a heavy load more evenly.
  • Lightweight backpack. The backpack itself should not add much weight to the load.
  • Rolling backpack. This type of backpack may be a good choice for students who must tote a heavy load. Remember that rolling backpacks must be carried up stairs.

To prevent injury

  • Always use both shoulder straps. Slinging a backpack over one shoulder can strain muscles.
  • Tighten the straps so that the pack is close to the body. The straps should hold the pack two inches above the waist.
  • Pack light. The backpack should never weigh more than 20 percent of the student's total body weight.
  • Organize the backpack to use all of its compartments. Pack heavier items closest to the center of the back.
  • Stop often at school lockers and remove items you don't need, if possible. Do not carry all of the books needed for the day.
  • Bend using both knees, when you bend down. Do not bend over at the waist when wearing or lifting a heavy backpack.
  • Learn back-strengthening exercises to build up the muscles used to carry a backpack.

Parents also can help

  • Encourage your child or teenager to tell you about pain or discomfort that may be caused by a heavy backpack. Do not ignore any back pain in a child or teenager.
  • Talk to the school about lightening the load. Be sure the school allows students to stop at their lockers throughout the day. Team up with other parents to encourage changes.
  • Consider buying a second set of textbooks for your student to keep at home.
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