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Backpack Safety

Backpack Safety: Help Balance the Load

Help prevent backpack-related injuries by teaching students how to safely carry their books home from school.

Someday, online textbooks may free students from the ubiquitous overstuffed, weighted-down backpack. But for now, most students are toting heavy loads to, from, and around school. You can help your child avoid injury by buying the right backpack, teaching your child to pack and carry it properly, and helping your child find ways to leave some of their stuff elsewhere.

In 2008, more than 12,000 backpack-related injuries sent kids to doctor's offices, hospitals, and emergency rooms, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Improper use of backpacks can lead to bad posture as well as muscle and joint damage, which can cause severe back, neck, and shoulder pain.

"Good backpack safety is about how much you're carrying and how you're carrying it," says Dr. Anita Rao, an orthopedic surgeon in Vancouver, Wash., and member of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. She offers these tips:


  • To help distribute the weight evenly, invest in a quality backpack with two wide, padded shoulder straps and a lot of compartments. If your child has a tendency to tote a lot of books, look for a backpack with a waist strap for additional support. "This really helps redistribute the weight, "Dr. Rao says.
  • Help your child strategize to keep the backpack as light as possible. Are there books that can remain home or in a school locker?
  • Limit the backpack to books and lightweight personal items. Some kids-and parent-want to carry their computer everywhere. Others shove their sports gear in with their textbooks. Have a separate bag for sports, "Rao advises.
  • Help your child pack his backpack properly as part of your back-to-school routine. Teach your child to place the heaviest items closest to the middle of his back.
  • Make sure your child cleans out her backpack regularly. Even over the course of a few weeks, extra materials and scrap paper can pile up.
  • If your child is petite, take extra steps to keep their backpack light. "You don't want a child carrying more than 15 percent of their body weight, " Rao says. Possible solutions include choosing a backpack with wheels or buying an extra set of textbooks to keep at home. Your child's school should be willing to help them safely transport their books.
  • Demonstrate how to carry a backpack properly. Both straps should be over their shoulders to affect a cool, laid-back vibe, kids tend to sling their backpack over one shoulder. That is a major don't, Rao says.
  • Messenger-style bags should only be used if your child is carrying a light load and if they plan to wear it with the strap diagonally across their body, not slung over one shoulder. A backpack worn properly is better than a messenger bag, Rao says, but a backpack worn slung over one shoulder is worse than a messenger bag worn across the body.
  • Model best practices in front of your children. Even if you're not a backpack user, don't overlaoad your purse or bag. Carry it properly and distribute the weight evenly.

With all the challenges facing busy families, it's easy to disregard your child's insistence on carrying their overstuffed backpack over one shoulder. But it's worth it to nag. Back, neck, and shoulder injuries can linger into adultood. That isn't baggage you want your child to have to carry.

Journalist Patti Ghezzi covered education and schools for 10 years for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, winning several awards, including a public service citation from the Associated Press for her exposure of grade inflation. Her freelance work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Miami Herald, and Adoptive Families magazine. Ghezzi lives in Avondale Estates, Georgia with her family, which includes husband, Jason; 4 year old daughter, Celia, and geriatric mutt, Albany.