Methodist Healthcare - August 01, 2023

Summer break is winding down, and new academic adventures are around the corner. As kids head back to school this fall, we’re raising backpack awareness and offering tips on how to keep your child’s back healthy throughout the school year.

Did you know that backpack overload sends thousands of kids to emergency rooms, physicians' offices and clinics from sprains, strains, dislocations and fractures every year? According to a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, an estimated 1200 children were treated in emergency rooms for backpack-related injuries each year from 2019-2021.

Choosing the right backpack and filling it correctly could save your child from the serious health effects that heavy or improperly worn backpacks can cause, including backaches, shoulder pain, tingling arms, weakened muscles and stooped posture.

How to choose the right backpack

Backpacks come in many shapes, sizes and styles. While your child's idea of the perfect backpack may be based solely on whether it has superheroes or unicorns on it, there are fit and function issues you should also take into consideration.

Tips for selecting a backpack

Consider these tips before you buy your child a new backpack:

  • Wide, well-padded shoulder straps help distribute weight and prevent nerve and blood vessel damage to shoulders and necks.
  • Packs with belts, multiple compartments and side pockets can help to distribute the weight of the pack’s contents.
  • Make sure the straps can be cinched tight. If they are loose in the shortest position, the pack is too large.
  • Try on and measure: The top should sit approximately two inches below the shoulder blades. The bottom should rest in the curve of the lower back and no more than four inches below the waist.

How to wear a backpack correctly and prevent injury

The safest, most well-chosen backpack will be unsafe if worn incorrectly. Follow these tips to lessen the chance of backpack injuries.

Load and weigh the pack

  • Fully-loaded, the pack should weigh no more than 10% of your child's body weight.
  • Ensure your child carries only what is needed for that day's activities.
  • Pack heavier items low and toward the center back of the pack.
  • Load smaller items into compartments and pockets to help distribute weight.

Wear the pack correctly

  • Have children use both straps to distribute weight evenly. Wearing a pack slung over one shoulder can cause leaning and spine curvature.
  • Tighten the straps so the pack fits snugly and doesn't hang down or bounce.
  • Use and tighten chest and hip straps to take some of the strain off the back, shoulders and neck.
  • Teach your children how to lift heavy objects, including backpacks, by bending at the knees.

More backpack safety strategies

  • Encourage children to report any pain, numbness or tingling in their neck, shoulders, arms, back or legs, which could indicate that a backpack is too heavy or doesn't fit well.
  • Watch children get in and out of the pack. If they're struggling, have them remove some items and carry them in their arms.
  • Suggest children leave items in a locker until needed.
  • Help children empty and clean out their backpacks weekly to get rid of trash and unnecessary items.
  • If pain continues, consider buying a second set of books to keep at home, or check to see if textbooks are available in a tablet edition.
  • Never ignore back pain in a child or teenager.

We hope your children get to school safely and smoothly this year, but if overloaded backpacks weigh them down, our Methodist Healthcare emergency rooms are open 24/7 to provide them with high-quality emergency care.

We also know that adults carry bags and backpacks, too, and if years of slinging an overloaded bag over your shoulder are causing you pain, know that Methodist Healthcare is here for you. We have orthopedic, joint and spine care programs with experienced providers offering the latest techniques and technological advancements to help relieve your pain and mobility issues.

For more information about our orthopedic services or to find a surgeon, please call Methodist Healthcare at (210) 575-0355.