With most children back in school now, it’s a good time to be thinking about backpack safety. When used correctly, they can be a great way to carry the necessities of the school day. But a backpack that is too heavy or distributes the weight load in the wrong way can present a health risk.

Improperly used backpacks may injure muscles and joints. This can lead to severe back, neck and shoulder pain, as well as posture problems. Although they are linked to posture problems, heavy backpacks do not in of themselves cause scoliosis (a sideways curve of the spine that often shows up in children during adolescence).

Parents should encourage their children to tell them if they are experiencing numbness, tingling or discomfort in the arms or legs while wearing a backpack. Watch your child put on and take off the backpack to see if they struggle. If the backpack seems too heavy for the child, have them remove some of the books and carry them in their arms to ease load on the back. You may even want to think about buying a second set of textbooks to keep at home.

Pay attention to the following tips for choosing the right backpack and preventing injury!

Choosing the right backpack

The correct use of both of the wide, well-padded shoulder straps will help distribute the weight of the backpack. When choosing a backpack, look for one that is appropriate for your child’s size. Look for some of the following features:

  • Wide, padded shoulder straps
  • Two shoulder straps
  • Padded back
  • Waist strap
  • Lightweight backpack
  • Rolling backpack

Preventing injury

  • Always use both shoulder straps to keep the weight of the backpack well distributed across the child’s back. A crossbody bag can also be a good alternative for carrying books and supplies.
  • Tighten the straps to keep the load close to the back.
  • Organize the items: pack heavier things low and toward the center.
  • Pack light, removing items if the backpack is too heavy. Carry only those items that are required for the day, and if possible, leave unnecessary books at home or at school.
  • Lift properly by bending at the knees when picking up a backpack.

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