Take a moment to reflect on how your child or teenager may be suffering under the weight of too many books in their backpack.

Unfortunately, back pain among young children due to overweight backpacks is a rising trend. Therefore, it’s important to take care with the proper fit, correct size and to educate against using the straps too long. All too often, adults do not treat the complaints of discomfort from youngsters as seriously as they should.  What they carry in their backpacks is usually a contributing factor that could lead to back, neck and shoulder pain. Even the U.S.A. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that backpack related injuries sent more than 7,000 people to the emergency room in 2001 alone.

Many of the problems associated with backpacks can be prevented by ensuring the correct fit, size and weight for your child. As chiropractors, we advise parents about the correct weight for your particular child and check for any deviation from normal spinal function.

Backpack safety rules

  1. Limit the backpack’s weight to no more than 5 to 10 percent of the child’s body weight. Any backpack will cause the child to bend forward in an attempt to support the weight on his or her back. The heavier it is the more the head and upper body bends forward. A 50-pound child should not carry more than 5 pounds, for example.
  2. The shoulder straps should be adjustable so the backpack can be fitted to your child’s body. Straps that are too loose can cause the backpack to hang down and cause even more spinal misalignment and pain.
  3. The backpack should never hang more than four inches below the waistline. A backpack that hangs too low increases the weight on the shoulders, causing your child to lean forward even more when walking. This “longer straps fashion” has become popular recently among teenagers who think it is un-cool to carry the pack where it is designed to be.
  4. The more room there is in a backpack, the more your child will carry and the heavier the backpack will be. Smaller backpacks should be the preference. Schools should be encouraged to have lockers where most books can be kept at school.
  5. Urge your child to wear both shoulder straps. Dragging the backpack around by one strap can cause a shift of weight to one side, leading to neck and muscle spasms and even low back pain.
  6. Wide, padded straps are very important. Non-padded straps are uncomfortable and they can dig into your child’s shoulders causing neck and arm pain.
  7. Use backpacks on wheels or roller packs with caution. Children tend to overload these bags and then need to haul them up bus and school stairs resulting in injury.