With kids nationwide now back in school, a chorus of moans and groans centering
on too much homework and not enough fun time will soon start echoing from
coast to coast. While those complaints may or may not have merit, youngsters
do have a legit gripe when it comes to a seemingly innocuous student staple…
Or, more precisely, said backpack’s bulging contents, which likely
includes: one to several textbooks, each weighing an average of 3.5 pounds.;
one or more binders; a smorgasbord of school supplies; a laptop; lunch;
and possibly even athletic equipment.
Beyond being cumbersome, an overstuffed backpack can result in back pain,
neck pain, tingling arms, and poor posture. Even more concerning –
because youngsters’ spines are still growing – an overly heavy
backpack can cause long-term damage, including osteoarthritis.
A Very Real Issue
Several studies have confirmed that the threat posed by weighty backpacks
is very real. For example, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety
Commission, at least 14,000 children are treated for backpack-related
A statistical study crunched the numbers and calculated that carrying a
12-pound backpack that’s lifted 10 times per day throughout the
school year results in a cumulative load of 21,600 pounds on a child’s
Not surprisingly, research reported in the journal
Pediatrics verified that children are experiencing serious backpack-caused injuries
ranging from sprains and strains to actual broken bones.
To prevent your offspring from sustaining a backpack-related injury, the
American Occupational Therapy Association offers the following tips:
- The weight of a backpack should be less than 10% to 15% of the youngster’s
- The heaviest items should be placed closest to the child's back.
- Use all of the backpack’s compartments to avoid a concentration of
items in one section.
- Prevent backpack build-up by routinely removing any items that aren’t
necessary for that particular day's activities.
- If the backpack’s weight can’t be reduced, consider using a
book bag on wheels.
- Both of the backpack’s shoulder straps always should be worn. Wearing
a pack slung over one shoulder can cause a child to lean to one side,
curving the spine and producing pain.
- Select a pack with well-padded shoulder straps and a padded back. The shoulders
and neck are home to many blood vessels and nerves that can cause pain
and tingling in the neck, arms, and hands when too much pressure is applied.
- Adjust the shoulder straps so that the backpack fits snugly to the youngster's back.
- A pack that hangs loosely from the back can pull the child backwards and
- If the backpack has a waist belt, wear it; the belt helps distribute the
pack's weight more evenly.
- The bottom of the backpack should rest in the curve of the lower back.
It should never fall more than four inches below the child's waistline.
- School backpacks come in different sizes for different ages; choose the
right size pack for your child's back. Also, avoid the new breed of
supersized backpacks, some of which measure 2,400 cubic inches –
about the size of a small dorm refrigerator.
When it comes to backpacks, the overarching adage seems to be: pack it
light and wear it right.