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Backpack Safety Tips for Kids

Proper backpack fit is essential to allow students to carry their supplies to/from school and around the school environment without negative effects on their musculoskeletal system. Children and young adults are constantly growing and developing their muscles.  A poor-fitting backpack can have adverse effects on proper orthopedic and musculoskeletal development and alignment, ultimately causing pain and dysfunction.  

A properly fitting backpack includes:

  • Matching the child’s size.  It should not extend past the child’s low back with the bottom resting in the contour of the low back.
  • Use of both straps. Two straps promote even weight distribution and help prevent trunk side bending or shoulder elevation.
  • Ability to put it on and take it off without difficulty- a backpack that is too tight can restrict lung function
  • Free movement of the arms
Along with fitting the backpack, it is important to monitor the load your students are carrying.  The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) recommends limiting your students to 10-15% of their body weight. This means if your student weighs 75 pounds, they should be carrying no more than 7.5—11.25 pounds in their backpack.  
Higher loads than this can cause an increase in a forward trunk lean with added stress to your child’s joints and muscles, especially in the spine.  In 2009, the APTA published a study by Goodgold, Is your Child’s Backpack Making the Grade; APTA- consumer interest, Alexandria, VA March 2011, which reported 55% of the children carried above the 15% recommended load, resulting in  1/3 of the children from the study experiencing back pain causing a doctor visit, missed school, or abstaining from physical activity.  The APTA recommends only carrying materials needed for that day and placing the heaviest items closer to the back.  

Finally, as educators and parents, we need to be able to recognize the warning signs that a backpack is too heavy. Be alert to:

  • Changes in posture

  • Struggling when putting the pack on

  • Pain while wearing the backpack

  • Tingling or numbness

  • Red marks

Attached below is a handout provided by the APTA that can be provided to families as a resource for the information above.
Finally, if you happen to have a family member or student who utilizes a wheelchair or walker, here are a few links to websites that offer products that secure assistive devices.  Always remember to work with your PT or equipment vendor to select a product that will be the most functional and safe for the individual.