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Backpack safety for kids

Backpack safety for kids

Until 1952, when the modern school backpack was designed, most children strapped their books together with leather straps to carry them to school.  Perhaps some of you who are reading this remember those days. Thankfully, these days we are spoiled for choice when it comes to backpacks for both children and adults. 

When used correctly, backpacks effectively distribute the weight of their contents across both shoulders and the back. As a result, they are less likely to cause injuries than messenger bags, purses, or brief cases.  The problem with backpacks comes when people use them incorrectly, or try to carry more weight than they should.  

Children are at risk of injuries from heavy backpacks, not only because they are smaller than adults, but also because they are often expected to carry heavy textbooks to school.  This can lead to problems during childhood, or problems which surface later in life as a result of the compensations the kids’ bodies have subconsciously made to help them carry the excessive loads. These problems can include poor posture as well as back, shoulder and neck pain.

How much weight is too much you might ask? Well, the numbers are slightly different depending on which group of experts one consults. However, the general rule for children is that the weight of the backpack plus its contents should not exceed 10-15% of the child’s body weight.  The next time you observe a group of school children, check to see how many of them seem to be carrying more than 15% of their body weight. I would venture to guess that the very large majority of kids are carrying more than this on a daily basis.

The steps you can follow to ensure your child has the least risk of injury from their backpack are:

  • Stick to the rule of keeping the weight of the backpack to 10-15% of body weight. Choosing a lightweight backpack in the first instance is an important part of achieving this goal
  • BOTH straps should be worn at all times to avoid overloading one side and causing the child to  lean to one side
  • Ensure that the backpack has wide, padded straps so they don’t dig into the child’s shoulders
  • Use chest and waist straps help to further distribute the weight 
  • Place the heavier items low and towards the centre of the bag 
  • Tighten the straps enough to centre the bag close to the back. The backpack should not sag down to the child’s buttock
  • A padded back on the backpack will prevent objects from inside the bag pressing into the child’s back and causing pain

It will be hard enough for the kids to return to school after summer. Make the transition as easy as possible for them by taking a bit of the weight off their shoulders. 

Rebeca Garvin
Chartered Physiotherapist

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