Heavy Backpack? Here’s How Kids Can Lighten the Load

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University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children'sExperts in Children's Health
An elementary aged school student leaving her home to go back to school, wearing a mask for protection against infectious disease

As the new school year approaches, parents and children are buying school supplies, which often includes a new backpack. Overloaded backpacks place stress on muscles and soft tissues. This causes fatigue and strain, increasing the risk of neck, shoulder and back injuries and, in rare circumstances, nerve damage.

Children can hurt themselves by using poor postures to manage a heavy load — arching the back, bending forward, twisting or leaning to one side. These postures can skew the spine’s alignment, so its discs can’t absorb shocks as they should.

“If your child is straining or slouching, that is a sign their backpack is too heavy,” says Raymond Liu, MD, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s. “You can lighten the load by following a few guidelines and ensuring that kids don’t carry unnecessary items in their backpacks.”

How to Choose and Pack a Backpack

Dr. Liu offer these tips for parents and children:

  • Limit the backpack load to 10 to 15 percent or less of the child’s body weight.
  • Load the heaviest items closest to your child’s body. Use all of the compartments to distribute the weight.
  • Pick a lightweight backpack with two wide, padded shoulder straps, a padded back, and a waist strap, which can help distribute the load.
  • Use both straps when carrying the backpack to spread the weight and promote good posture. Using one strap means one side of the body bears most of the weight.
  • Adjust the shoulder straps so the backpack can easily be put on and taken off. The straps should permit free arm movement, without being too loose.
  • Take care when putting on and taking off backpacks. Avoid twisting too much. When bending to pick up a heavy backpack, bend with both knees, not at the waist.
  • Position the backpack evenly in the middle of the back, near the body’s center of gravity. The backpack should sit two inches above the waist.
  • If possible, make frequent school locker stops to remove items that are not needed right away.

“If the weight is too much for your child, you may want to consider a rolling backpack,” Dr. Liu says. “Just remember that rolling backpacks must be carried up and down any stairs.”

Related Link

At University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s, we focus not only on providing the best musculoskeletal care today, but also on how it will affect growth and development in the future. This is why our pediatric orthopedic care has consistently been ranked as one of the very best programs in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Learn more.

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