Top backpack safety tips to keep your kids healthy

Six children with backpacks standing in front of a bus.
Six children with backpacks standing in front of a bus.

Your child may carry a lot of weight on their shoulders when they go to school. Textbooks, notebooks, binders, lunch and other school necessities can quickly create a heavy backpack. While all of the gear may be necessary, over time heavy backpacks can have negative effects on your child’s back and body. Backpacks that are too heavy can increase the risk of injury, the curvature of the spine, pain, and poor posture.

September 26 is the American Occupational Therapy Association’s (AOTA) National School Backpack Awareness Day. In honor of this important health observance, we’re sharing some of AOTA’s top tips to help your child avoid the pain that can result from carrying a backpack that is too heavy.

  • Pick the right size.

    Backpacks come in different sizes for different ages. Make sure you and your child pick a pack that is appropriate for their size and age.

  • Pack it right.

    Help your child properly distribute the weight of the items in their backpack. Place heavier items in the back center area of the backpack. Lighter items should be in the front of the backpack and be sure to keep any sharp objects away from the back of the pack.

  • No more than 10%.

    Make sure your child’s backpack weighs no more than 10% of your child’s weight. If the backpack weighs in at over 10%, first assess if everything in the pack is truly necessary, and consider removing things that aren’t really needed. If you still need to decrease the pack’s weight, have your child remove a textbook and hand-carry it instead.

  • Wear it properly.

    Make sure your child wears both shoulder straps of the backpack–this can help prevent injury. Make sure the shoulder straps are adjusted so the pack fits snugly on your child’s back. Also make sure that the sternum strap is properly adjusted and that the hip belt is secured.

  • Watch for warning signs.

    If your child’s backpack is too heavy, you may notice one or more of the following:

    • They have difficulty putting on or taking off the backpack
    • They complain of pain while wearing the backpack, or tingling or numbness in their arms or legs
    • They have red strap marks on the front part of their shoulders

    Get more backpack safety tips from AOTA by clicking here and here.