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What do I need to know about backpack safety?

Backpacks are a popular and practical way for children and teenagers to carry schoolbooks and supplies. When used correctly, backpacks can be a good way to carry the necessities of the school day. They are designed to distribute the weight of the load among some of the body's strongest muscles.

Choose the right backpack. Look for the following:


A backpack that is too heavy and is worn incorrectly on the back causes the child to assume an extreme forward posture in an effort to compensate for the additional weight. This can lead to headaches, backaches, shoulder pain and numbness/tingling into the arms. After long periods of time, it can lead to a weakening of muscles in the neck, mid-back, abdominals, and low back and those muscles can end up "molded" into permanent deficient positions.


Look for shoulder straps that are well padded. Straps can compress sensitive neurovascular bundles comprised of nerves, arteries and veins. This can cause pain in the shoulders restrict circulation, as well as causes numbness and/or tingling in the neck and arms.

Well padded straps will distribute the load over a greater area, protecting sensitive nerves and blood vessels that pass underneath.

A padded back protects against sharp edges on objects inside the pack and increases comfort.


Look for packs with straps on the top and bottom for a perfect two-point fit from shoulder to waist.

Always wear both shoulder straps to distribute weight evenly.

Adjust the pack high and tight.


The bottom of the pack should rest in the curve of the lower back. It should never rest more than four inches below the child's waistline.

Lumbar support takes stress off the back and encourages healthy posture by using the backpack's weight to maintain the natural curves of the spine


Load heaviest items closest to the child's back to maintain their center of gravity.

Pack items neatly and organized to keep books and materials from sliding around in the pack, shifting the weight.

Multiple zippered outer compartments provide easy storage for keys, pens, pencils and calculators.

Pack only what you need for that day.

Never allow a child to carry more than 15% of his or her body weight. That means a child who weighs 100 pounds should not carry a school backpack that weighs more than 15 pounds


An average-sized elementary school student or petite adult who measures 15" or less from top of the shoulders to the natural waist should have a small backpack with a maximum of 1650 cubic inch capacity.

An average-sized middle school student and smaller adult who measures between 15" and 17" from top of the shoulders to the natural waist should have a medium backpack with a maximum of 2000 cubic inch capacity.

A taller/larger teen who measures more than 17" from the top of the shoulders to the natural waist should have a larger backpack with a maximum of 2600 cubic inch capacity.


This type of backpack may be a good choice for students who must tote a heavy load. Remember that rolling backpacks still must be carried up stairs. They may be difficult to roll in snow.


  • Monitor what your child is carrying to school each day to help him or her avoid carrying unnecessary items which add weight to the backpack.
  • Periodically check to see if your child is wearing his or her backpack correctly.
  • Assist your child with cleaning out and organizing the backpack weekly.
  • Encourage children to exercise to strengthen muscles in the torso, including the lower back and abdominal muscles.
  • Talk to your child and teachers about ways to reduce backpack weight.
  • Share any concerns about backpack weight with your child's teacher or administrator.


4 Steps to Safe Backpack Use

Below are helpful tips to insure you know how to safely use your backpack in order to promote spinal health.

Step 1: Choose Right.

Choosing the right size backpack is the most important step to safe backpack use.

Tip: Bring a friend to help you measure your backpack properly.

Step 2: Pack Right.

The maximum weight of the loaded backpack should not exceed 15 % of your body weight, so pack only what is needed.

Tip: If the backpack forces the wearer to move forward to carry, it's overloaded.

Step 3: Lift Right.

Face the Pack -Bend at the Knees - Use both hands and check the weight of the pack. - Lift with the legs - Apply one shoulder strap and then the other.

Tip: Don't sling the backpack onto one shoulder.

Step 4: Wear Right.

Use both shoulder straps - snug, but not too tight.

Tip: When the backpack has a waist strap - use it.