Back to School Backpack Safety


It’s that time of year again when kids and parents are preparing for a new school season.   When buying school supplies, parents often overlook the impact an ill-fitting backpack can have on a child’s health.  According to a study by Boston University, approximately 85% of students from the university reported pain and discomfort associated with backpack usage.  Wearing a pack that is too heavy or one that fits incorrectly can cause low back pain, muscle soreness, shoulder pain, and poor posture.  A study in The Journal of Applied Physiology found that the pressure of heavy loads carried on the back have the potential to damage the soft tissues and nerves of the neck and shoulders causing numbness and tingling to arms and hands.

Here are some tips to consider to avoid these health issues and prevent injury and discomfort when buying, loading and wearing a backpack.

When buying a backpack:

Make sure the backpack fits appropriately with the height of the backpack extending approximately 2 inches below the shoulder blades to waist level or slightly above the waist

Look for well-padded shoulder straps so the weight of the pack is evenly distributed across both shoulders

Hip and sternum belts are helpful to disperse weight and take some of the strain off of the neck and shoulders

The bottom of the pack should rest in the curve of the lower back, never more than 4 inches below the waist

Packs should be tried on for fit, just like new shoes or clothes

If ordering online, make sure the vendor has a return policy in case the pack is not the right fit

Reflective material on packs allows kids to be seen more easily when walking to/from school

When loading a backpack:

Place heavier items like computers, tablets and large books toward the back of the pack (closest to the child’s back)

Arrange books and materials to avoid items moving around when walking

Check to see what your child carries in his or her backpack and remove unnecessary items

Utilize pockets to disperse items evenly and snuggly

When wearing a backpack:

The backpack should weigh no more than 10% of the child’s body weight.  For example, a child weighing 50lbs should not carry a back pack more than 5lbs

Adjust the straps so that the pack fits snuggly against the child’s back

Check the straps for correct fit frequently, as they can become loose over time

Two straps are better than one, dispersing the weight more evenly across the child’s shoulders

When putting the pack on, educate the child to bend at the knees vs bending over to prevent back injury

If you would like to consult an occupational therapist about an ergonomic evaluation regarding backpacks, computer use, or other learning-related issues, contact Harlan County Health System’s Rehabilitation Department at (308) 928-3002.


These tips provided by Mindy DeJonge OTD, OTR/L (