School Backpacks: Hurting Our Kids?


schoolgirl at bus stop

School backpacks: villain or scapegoat?

Every fall millions of American children and teenagers return to school.

And like clockwork, hundreds of articles and news stories expounding the potential dangers of kids backpacks return to virtually every newspaper, television station and news website.

Are backpacks really hurting our kids? Should parents lie awake at night concerned the backpack they just bought junior will lead to irreversible spinal damage?

Or could it be the media is simply falling all over itself in political correctness while actually inciting us to raise a bunch of weak, out of shape kids unable to carry a simple set of books on their backs?

Like many heavily discussed topics the real answer lies somewhere in the middle. Yes, one backpack may be better suited than another. There really are proper ways to carry one to avoid neck aches and back pains.

And just like long division, confidently selecting and safely wearing the right backpack only requires following a few simple steps.

How to select your child’s backpack

Price is clearly a factor for many parents. Fortunately, purchasing a safe backpack doesn’t have to break the bank. Look for these features when you shop for your child’s backpack:

Size – select a backpack that fits snugly to the curve of your child’s back. Look for a backpack that doesn’t hang below the waist. A loaded pack should never fall more than 4 inches below the waistline.

Shoulder straps – choose a backpack with two adjustable, well-padded shoulder straps. Shoulder strap anchors should fall 1 to 2 inches below the top of the shoulder.

Waist belt – a waist belt can help ensure weight is carried properly.

Wheels – if your child’s school allows wheeled backpacks, heavier loads can be pulled along instead of carried to offload the weight. Be sure the extended handle length allows your child to pull the backpack without excessive bending or twisting.

How to properly load and wear a school backpack

Studies have shown back and neck pain in school aged children is most frequently caused by improper backpack use. Painful muscle imbalances really can lead to long term postural defects. But carrying a school backpack doesn’t need to cause alarm.

Follow these loading and carrying guidelines to eliminate the most common sources of backpack related pain in children:

15% rule – never allow your child to carry more than 15% of his or her weight. For example, a 100 pound child should never carry more than 15 pounds in their backpack.

Heavy items in back – securely pack heavier items to remain close to your child’s back.

Keep it clean – remove items not needed for school that day to minimize weight.

Wear both shoulder straps – distribute weight evenly across both shoulders by always wearing both straps. Adjust straps to allow free movement of the arms without twisting or bending to the side.

Use the waist belt – Reduce load on the shoulders and neck by securely fastening the waist belt.

Center the pack — have your child wear their backpack centered across the curve of the mid back. It should not hang below the waistline.

Use the wheels – use the wheels if so equipped, particularly when carrying heavy loads.

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Written By:  Updated:
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Jesse Cannone, CFT, CPRS, MFT

Jesse is the co-founder and visionary CEO of The Healthy Back Institute®, the world-leading source of natural back pain solutions. His mission as a former back pain sufferer is to help others live pain free without surgery and pharmaceuticals.

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1 thought on “School Backpacks: Hurting Our Kids?”

  1. wowest says:

    I suffered considerable physical stress as a child, before the backpack fad developed, carrying an average of ten books home from school every night during high school. The worst offenders were the history books, which were pointlessly thick and heavy. We had a history reading assignment every night and I never had a study hall. I would have benefited from using a backpack, rather than carrying an armload of books under my right arm for two miles every morning and afternoon.

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