How to Choose a School Backpack

Arts and Education, Growth and Development

For many kids, back-to-school time means backpack-shopping time. While children may be most interested in what their backpack looks like, parents need to pay attention to how the bag is made. Choosing the right one can help protect your child from back and neck pain caused by backpacks that are too heavy and not supportive enough.

More than 79 million students in the United States sport backpacks, and more than 28,000 people were treated for injuries related to backpacks in 2010, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

“Back pain is just not normal in kids, and we are seeing it more and more frequently because they are carrying too much weight in their backpacks,” says Dr. Claire Unis, a pediatrician in Auburn, Calif. (pop. 13,330).

How to choose the right bag

Choose function over form. The one-strap look may be hip, but it can increase your child’s risk of back or neck injury. “Make sure they have two padded shoulder straps that are about 2 inches wide,” says Dana Tew, a physical therapist with Harris County Hospital District in Houston, Texas. “Two straps distribute the weight more evenly, and the padding can alleviate any pinching or pressure on the neck and shoulders.”

The back of the pack should be padded with a contour that fits into the small of the back, and the backpack should have a waist strap to further distribute weight across the body.

Make sure your child wears it correctly

Wear it right. A backpack should extend from about 2 inches below your child’s shoulder blade to the waist area. “It should not hang down past the waist,” Tew says.

Lighten the load. A backpack should not contain more than 10 to 15 percent of your child’s weight. The majority of students push this limit. Dr. Brett Taylor, an orthopedic surgeon in St. Louis, Mo., says packing smartly can help. Pack the heaviest item—that massive history or math textbook, for example—in the compartment closest to the back. Place school supplies in the smaller compartments.

“It is easier to hold weight when it is closest to your body,” Taylor says. Also teach your kids to lift with both knees to avoid pains and strains.

Know the warning signs. “If your child struggles to put their backpack on or take it off, complains of tingling or numbness in shoulders, arms or hands, back pain or neck pain and/or has red marks on shoulders when they remove the backpack, it may be too heavy,” Tew says.

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