4 Ways to Prevent Pain and Injury from Backpacks

Backpacks are needed to carry books and supplies but when they are too heavy or aren’t worn properly; they can cause back, neck and shoulder problems in kids.

“Back pain isn’t as commonplace in kids as it is in adults,” said Erica DeVries, MD, a pediatrician with ProMedica Physicians Arrowhead Pediatrics. “If a child comes into my office with back pain, I ask a lot of questions about the pain itself and the things they do on a daily basis including carrying a backpack, their activities and their posture.”

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 10,000 children ages 5 – 18 years old were treated for backpack-related injuries in 2014.

To protect your child’s back, the American Academy of Pediatrics offers the following safety tips:

1. Purchase a backpack that’s appropriate for the size of your child.

“The size of the bag and how it fits is important,” said Dr. DeVries. “Make sure the backpack has two wide, padded shoulder straps and is light weight. Bags that have straps that go around the chest and hips as well as compartments help distribute weight. Balance what looks good with what’s safe. Consider purchasing a more ergonomic backpack and adding patches and other materials to personalize it.”

2. Wear the backpack correctly.

“Teach your child to use both straps and not wear the backpack on one shoulder,” said Dr. DeVries. “Show your kids how to pick up the backpack correctly–to use both hands and bend their knees. If your child leans forward carrying the backpack or struggles to get it on or off, it is probably too heavy.”

3. Only carry what you need in your backpack.

“Bring home only the books required to complete homework assignments and utilize lockers to avoid carrying electronics and books that are not needed,” said Dr. DeVries. “Once a backpack is full, it shouldn’t be more than 10–15% of your child’s weight.”

4. Encourage your child to tell you if they have any pain.

“Go through your child’s backpack weekly and ask if it was necessary to bring all those items home and highlight things they don’t have to carry,” said Dr. DeVries. “Talking to your child about their backpack is an opportunity for them to share how they are feeling.”

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