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Updated: Mar 13, 2023

Backpacks come in all sizes, colors, fabrics, and shapes and aid children of all ages express their own sense of style. Used properly, they can be a useful tool. Many packs come with multiple compartments that help students stay organized while they tote their books and papers from home to school and back again. Compared to shoulder bags, messenger bags, or purses, backpacks are better because the strongest muscles in the body - the back and the abdominal muscles - support the weight of the packs. When worn correctly, the weight is evenly distributed across the child's body, and shoulder and neck injuries are less common than if the child carried a briefcase or purse.

Kids who wear their backpacks over just one shoulder - as many kids do, because they think it looks better- may end up leaning to one side to offset the extra weight. They might develop lower and upper back pain and strain their shoulders and neck. Improper backpack use can also lead to poor posture. Girls and younger children may be especially at risk for backpack-related injuries because they're smaller and may carry loads that are heavier in proportion to their body weight, also backpacks with tight, narrow straps that dig into the shoulders can interfere with a child's circulation and nerves. These types of straps can contribute to tingling, numbness, and weakness in the child's arms and hands.

And bulky or heavy backpacks don't just cause back injuries. Here are some other safety issues to consider:

  • People who carry large packs often aren't aware of how much space the packs take up and can hit others with their packs when turning around or moving through tight spaces, such as the aisles of the school bus.

  • Students are often injured when they trip over large packs or the packs fall on them.

  • Carrying a heavy pack changes the way a person walks and increases the risk of falling, particularly on stairs or other places where the backpack puts the student off balance.

Despite their potential problems, backpacks are an excellent tool for children when used properly. But before you buy that trendy new backpack your kid or teen has been begging you for, consider the backpack's construction.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents look for the following when choosing the right backpack:

  • a lightweight pack that doesn't add a lot of weight to your child's load (for example, even though leather packs look cool, they weigh more than traditional canvas backpacks)

  • two wide, padded shoulder straps - straps that are too narrow can dig into shoulders

  • a padded back, which not only provides increased comfort, but also protects your child from being poked by sharp edges on objects (pencils, rulers, notebooks, etc.) inside the pack

  • a waist belt, which helps to distribute the weight more evenly across the body

  • multiple compartments, which can also help distribute the weight more evenly

Although packs on wheels (which look like small, overhead luggage bags) may be good options for students who have to lug around really heavy loads, they may be less practical than traditional backpacks because they're extremely difficult to pull up stairs and to roll through snow. Check with your child's school before buying your child a rolling pack; many schools don't allow them because they can pose a tripping hazard in the hallways.

Some easy steps your child can take to prevent injury when using a backpack:

Back specialist, increasingly concerned about the issue of children’s health and safety with their backpacks recommend that your child carry no more than 10-15% of their body weight in their loaded backpack, so pack only what is needed. Add up all of the items your child is carrying in their backpack, and it could be as much as 25% of their body weight. Purchasing a properly fitted pack enhances your child’s natural ability to carry weight properly and balanced, reducing stress on their body. The wise move on your part is to purchase sophisticated suspension systems that fits the body snugly and moves with the torso during activity. These systems also distribute the pack's weight evenly to prevent neck and shoulder strain. A few backpack statistics:

  • 89 percent of chiropractors surveyed responded that they have seen patients (ages 5-18) reporting back, neck or shoulder pain caused by heavy backpacks.

  • 71 percent of chiropractors presently seeing such patients responded that they are currently seeing one to four patients (ages 5-18) reporting back, neck or shoulder pain caused by heavy backpacks. )

In conclusion: Use of one strap shifts the weight to one side, causing muscle spasms and low back pain. This is true even with one-strap backpacks that cross the body. By wearing two shoulder straps, the weight of the backpack is better distributed, and a well-aligned symmetrical posture is promoted. The size of the backpack should match the size of the child. It is also important to pay close attention to the way the backpack is positioned on the back. The backpack should rest evenly in the middle of the back. Shoulder straps should be adjusted to allow the child to put on and take off the backpack without difficulty and permit free movement of the arms. Make sure that the straps are not too loose and that the backpack does not extend below the low back.

  • Choose ergonomically designed features that enhance safety and comfort

  • A padded back to reduce pressure on the back, shoulders and under arm regions, and enhance comfort

  • Hip and chest belts to transfer some of the backpack weight from the back and shoulders to the hips and torso

  • Multiple compartments to better distribute the weight in the backpack, keep items secure, and ease access to the contents

  • Compression straps on the sides or bottom of the backpack to stabilize the articles and compress the contents so that the items are as close to the back as possible

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