Neurology Insights

Backpack Tips for Back to School

Kids Going to School with Their Backpacks

How to Promote Spine Health and Avoid Injury!

Each year millions of children and young adults walk to and from school carrying backpacks that may be causing spine problems. Studies have shown that backpacks can weigh anywhere from 10 or 20 pounds or even 30 pounds or more depending on the age of the student and what is included in the backpack. Often times the backpack will include items such as notebooks, textbooks, laptops, lunches, or even small musical instruments. It is rare that a child or their parents will actually weigh these backpacks. And while formal studies of backpack safety are few, a number of recent studies have shown that individuals that carry more than 10% of their body weight can have spinal disk problems, spine disorders, scoliosis, neck pain, headaches, pinched nerves, and even small fractures of the spine. One small study using a stand up magnetic resonance imaging scanner showed distortion of disk height, abnormal curvature and early signs of scoliosis with caring backpacks ranging from 10% to 22% of the child’s body weight. And the Consumer Product Safety Commission has reported that backpack-related injuries are up 33% since 1996.

Warning Signs that the backpack is too heavy:

  1. The student struggles to put the backpack on.
  2. When wearing the backpack, the student is forced to lean forward or show incorrect posture.
  3. Any pain in the neck, mid back, or low back or headaches while wearing the backpack.
  4. Any tingling or numbness in the arms, legs, or fingers while wearing the backpack.
  5. Red marks or indentations from the straps.

So... how do you protect your student from backpack Injuries?

  • The most important thing is to choose the right backpack for the shape and size of the student, and then teach your student how to correctly use the backpack.
  • For example, lightweight material is much more effective than a heavier material such as leather.
  • Making sure that the backpack has two straps, that are padded and wide (2 inches or more) and the pads should be easily adjustable.
  • Multiple compartments rather than just one large opening.
  • A padded back is helpful to avoid pressure from contact with the contents.
  • A hip strap and waist belt, or even a frame can help to redistribute the weight from just the shoulders to the entire spine and pelvis.
  • Wheels on the backpack can be extremely helpful, although often seen as “uncool”.

Using the backpack correctly:
Even the lightest, safest, and best backpack ever made can produce problems if it is not loaded and used correctly.

  1. Use both shoulder straps and never sling the backpack over only one shoulder.
  2. Place the heaviest objects in the pack first, so they are lower and closer to the body.
  3. Spread out all the contents so the load is even. Take advantage of and completely pack the different compartments.
  4. Adjust the pack for an appropriate fit; it should be snug and the top should be just below the skull while the bottom is roughly 2 inches above the waist.
  5. Avoid packing sharp objects. And never have them contact the back.
  6. Do not lean forward when wearing the pack; this is a sure sign that it is overloaded!
  7. Never put the backpack on by using the neck with the arms outstretched; always lift from the leg muscles and keep the weight close to the body.
If you weigh:
Your backpack should
weigh less than:
90 9-13.5
100 10-15
110 11-16.5
120 12-18
130 13-19.5
140 14-21
150 15-22.5
160 16-24
170 17-25
180 18-25
190 19-25
200 20-25

No student should carry more than 25 pounds!

So how do you help your student reduce their risk of injury?

  • Teach your student how to lighten their load. Use the smallest and lightest backpack that will meet your student’s needs. This is an obvious way to reduce how much can go into the backpack.
  • Have them spend five minutes at the end of each school day figuring out which books, notebooks, and other items need to be brought home for that night.
  • If possible, have a second set of the heavier textbooks at home, so your student doesn’t have to transport them back and forth each day.
  • Have your student make more frequent trips to the locker during the day to help minimize what they have to carry throughout the day.
  • If possible, make photocopies of assignments and chapters and only bring those home rather than the entire textbook.

Being proactive:

Avoid this problem before it even begins. At the first complaint or sign of a problem, set up a meeting with their teacher and school administrators. And get involved with a healthy spine exercise program.

For more information on spine care and spine exercises, read our spinal tips/exercises

If you or someone you love may have back pain, contact our team of medical professionals to find out what you can do to start on a healthier journey!

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Neurology Office, Joseph Kandel M.D. and Associates

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