Back-to-School Means Backpacks

children with backpacks

When it comes to back-to-school shopping, backpacks are typically a popular purchase for students. But what type of backpack is best? Each year, tens of millions of students in the U.S. wear backpacks, but how do you know if your child's backpack is safe? Jim Esdon, program manager of the Injury Prevention Center, Children's Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock (CHaD), talks about backpack safety and gives tips and advice for your children.

"Falls with a backpack on seem to be how kids get injured while wearing a backpack. That's why a lower weight backpack can help avoid your child being hurt," Esdon says. "Contrary to what some people believe, the use of a backpack will not cause scoliosis, but can strain neck, shoulder and back muscles." Esdon also explains that falls tripping over backpacks can also cause injury.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) provides the following guidelines when selecting a backpack:

  • Backpacks should have padded straps and a padded back. Avoid backpacks with very narrow or string straps.
  • Try to pack your backpacks as lightly as possible.
  • Keep in mind: backpacks should never weigh more than 10 to 20 percent of a child's body weight.
  • Always use both strapsotherwise you run the risk of straining muscles.
  • There is always the option of using a rolling backpack, but keep in mind, these still may need to be carried up stairs, are difficult to roll outside and may not fit standard school-sized lockers. Also, many schools do not allow rolling backpacks because of the potential to trip over them.
  • Teach your child how to properly lift a backpack, just as they should with any heavy object.

"I have not been able to find any studies that demonstrate the long-term effects of backpack use, although there is much evidence for the short-term effects," Esdon says. "Most of the Emergency Department visits, according to the AAP, from backpack injuries do not involve the back (89 percent) but are from falls and other issues."

This year, the American Occupational Therapy Association will be hosting National School Backpack Awareness Day on September 18, 2019.

This is a day to spread awareness about backpack safety by organizing local events to educate people in your community. Contact your school system to see if there are any activities planned, or find resources to start your own.

Learn more about the Injury Prevention Center at CHaD.