8 Tips to Avoid Backpack Injuries – FitPT

8 Tips to Avoid Backpack Injuries

Posted on August 15 2016

Summer is winding down. For those of us with kids, that means scoping out deals on back-to-school supplies. From a physical therapy standpoint, the most important school supply is the backpack. Too often, kids are either toting around a bag that isn’t designed with body mechanics in mind, OR they are using the right bag in the wrong way which may result in back strain, poor posture, or even nerve damage.

While it might be tempting to retreat to the basement and avoid the whole thing all together, we know that the benefits of an education far outweigh the risks involved with carrying school supplies to and from the halls of learning. As a physical therapist, my goal is to help you embrace the reality of the backpack and offer some tips on selecting and using the best one for your student.

Backpack Selection Tips:

  • Select a bag constructed of lightweight material.
  • Straps should be wide, padded and adjustable.
  • A bag with a waist or hip strap is preferable. Whenever possible, use both the shoulder and waist straps to help evenly distribute the weight load of the bag.
  • Choose the right size. Adult bags should not be used for small children because they may be too high to allow proper head positioning. In addition, their large size alone may exceed the weight limit for your small child.

Once you have selected the right backpack, here are some tips for how to properly use it:

Minimize weight strain by packing only what is really needed. This takes some practice and reminders, and will become especially important once your child reaches middle school. By then, they’ll likely have multiple textbooks and will be expected to tote them to and from class on a daily basis.

Limit backpack weight to no more than 15% of body weight. Some kids decide to schlep their entire curriculum around instead of stressing about making the trek to and from their locker. A child weighing 100 pounds should carry no more than 15 pounds. When you consider that the average book weighs 3-5 pounds, by the time your child has a few books, notebooks, and a water bottle, they’ve likely exceeded the safe zone. Planning ahead with homework assignments can help reduce the amount of books being carried home each day.

Try to evenly distribute the weight. Wearing a backpack across both shoulders will minimize stress on the spine and back muscles. If there are times when you must exceed the 15% rule, remove a few books from the backpack and carry those in your hands to help more evenly distribute the weight.

Keep heavy items closest to the body. When loading the pack, place the heavy items on the side of the bag that will be carried closest to your back.

Utilize the straps—they are there for a reason. Don’t allow the pack to droop. If it is bumping against your lower back or butt, it is too low. Adjust the straps accordingly to ensure a snug fit.

Consider a backpack with wheels. If the school allows this alternative, the wheels can give your back a much-needed break.

Your locker is your friend. The locker allows students to swap out books and other materials so that they don’t have to be carried around all day. Plan out locker visits to minimize the amount of weight being carried around all day.

Proper lifting technique will minimize the risk of back injuries. Whenever you are picking up a backpack (or any heavy object), make sure to bend at the knees when lifting it to your shoulders.

As you can see, there is a lot to consider regarding the selection and usage of a backpack. It’s a school supply item that has an important role in your child’s learning and physical health. Hopefully these tips will help minimize back injury or strain so that your student can stay focused on learning.

Fortunately, there are a wide range of great products now on the market that will offer the comfort and style that your child will be looking for this fall.

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Yours for safe mobility,
Dr. Christian Jones, Littleton/Peak Clinic


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