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July 16, 2024

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Over-Loaded Backpacks Can Hurt Kids

Since you're shopping for a backpack, take the time to analyze your child's needs and help her learn what she DOES and DOES NOT need to carry all of the time.

New binders are coming. New devices. Maybe a library book or two and of course lunch, pencil pouches, etc. The items that can be found in your child's backpack are endless. That's why the weight of the backpack in addition to the position that the backpack's in as it's carried can cause harm to a kid's growing back. It's easy to forget how important it is to know backpack safety when there's so much to bring home each day.


While shoulder bags and satchels carried on one arm are popular, they're not great for your child.
    "Carrying a heavy bag on one shoulder for a long period of time can alter your natural gait, interfering with the way your arms move while walking thus altering your balance," says Michael McCutchen, M.D., primary care physician at Saint Thomas Medical Partners in Mt. Juliet. He advises all students to use backpacks because they provide even distribution of weight across the body and to use BOTH straps.
    "Backpack straps should always be worn across both shoulders to prevent gait imbalance," says McCutchen. Tighten the straps so that the backpack fits close to the body, and watch for where it hangs. "The bag should not be worn too high or too low. It should rest evenly in the middle of the back to prevent pulling the spine and shoulder blades away from their natural posture," adds McCutchen.
    And, according to Backpack Safety America, the height of your child's back pack should be no more than three quarters of the length between the child's shoulder blades and waist. Carrying the backpack should be comfortable, too. Narrow shoulder straps combined with a heavy load can strain the shoulders and pinch nerves around the shoulder and neck area cautions McCutchen. Prevent nerve compression and straining with the use of a backpack with padded shoulder straps. And, don't overload it. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says, "The backpack should never weigh more than 10 to 20 percent of your child's body weight." "Observe how your child walks while wearing the backpack," says McCutchen. "If he appears to be straining or hunched over, the load is likely too heavy."

AAP's Backpack Safety Tips

  • Comfort. Choose a backpack with wide, padded shoulder straps and a padded back.
  • Pack light. Use all of the compartments to organize your child's belongings. Pack heavier items closest to the center of the back. Remove unneeded items weekly.
  • Use both shoulder straps. Slinging a backpack over one shoulder can strain muscles.
  • Position. Adjust the straps so the bottom of the backpack sits at your child's waist.
  • Consider a rolling backpack. If it's allowed at your school, this type of backpack may be a good choice for students with a heavy load. However, your child may need to carry it up any stairs, they may be difficult to roll in snow and they may not fit in some lockers.

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