Oh, My Childs Aching Back

What You Can Do About Overweight School Packs

Concerns about the dangers of carrying heavy school backpacks have been publicized for a few years now. But as many parents attest, kids are still shouldering a weighty load of books, notebooks and school supplies – and risking back injuries because of it.

Lightening the backpack load that kids carry to and from school is both parents’ and teachers’ responsibility. Parents can make sure their kids aren’t carrying unnecessary items, and teachers can seek alternatives to textbooks and establish schedules that help lighten students’ load.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) recommends that kids carry no more than 15 percent of their own body weight on their back (ie., a 100-pound student should be carrying no more than 15 pounds in his backpack). Yet many students aren’t following that guideline. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports backpack-related injuries in the thousands each year – most involving strains to the shoulder, neck and back. Some of these back injuries result in lifelong back pain, orthopedic surgeons say.

Keeping the backpack load light and having your child wear it properly are the simplest things you can do to save his or her back. Improperly used backpacks may injure muscles and joints, which can lead to severe back, neck and shoulder pain, as well as posture problems. The AAOS suggests getting your child a backpack made of dense material, with two well-padded shoulder straps. The pack should fit snugly, and the bottom should rest in the curve of the lower back for proper support.

When choosing a backpack, look for:

• Wide, padded shoulder straps
• Two shoulder straps
• Padded back
• Waist strap
• Lightweight backpack
• Rolling backpack

When wearing a backpack:

• The straps should be settled on both shoulders to distribute the weight evenly across the back.
• Tighten the straps so that the pack is close to the body.
• Pack light – organize your things so that you’re only carrying what you need.
• Lift properly – while bending your knees; and with two hands and arms, not just one

Help prevent serious back injuries by:

• Encouraging your child or teenager to tell you about pain or discomfort that may be caused by a heavy backpack.
• Talking to the school about lightening the load.
• Making sure the school allows students to stop at their lockers throughout the day.

• Buying a second set of textbooks, if possible, for your student to keep at home.

Along with providing a quality backpack, the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), which sponsors an annual National School Backpack Awareness Day (Sept. 16, 2009), suggests that you check your child's pack to make sure everything in there is really necessary.

Clear the clutter, and then:

• Place heavy items at the bottom of the bag, in the center, with the rest of the load evenly distributed.
• Use the pack’s handy compartments to divide the contents and keep everything from sliding to one side.
• To trim the load of books, consider photocopying or scanning several chapters for future homework assignments, so the books can stay at school.

What Schools Can Do

Your child’s school can also help reduce the backpack burden. Some schools don’t allow students to carry backpacks from class to class. This is partially due to lack of space in hallways and classrooms, and the considerable amount of space the full backpacks themselves take up.

Schools can also set schedules so that students attend classes in longer time blocks and give teachers the discretion to allow students to visit their lockers between classes.

The AOTA suggests that schools can also help by encouraging students to:

• Use notebooks, rather than heavier three-ring binders, for taking notes.
• Segregate materials for each class in smaller one-inch binders, instead of combining them in three-inch binders.
• File course notes at home if they are not needed, rather than continuing to carry them to school.

Alternative course materials can also help. Some texts can be ordered as paperback rather than hard cover. Some materials can be photocopied, posted online or provided on a CD-ROM.


American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons – 800-842-BONES - Offers information about backpack safety online or by phone.

American Occupational Therapy Association– This year, National School Backpack Awareness Day is Sept. 16, 2009. The Web site includes materials you can use to organize a backpack awareness event at your child's school.