Leo M. Kenney, D.C,. F.A.C.O.

Chiropractic Orthopedist

Serving the Mount Washington Valley since 1984

Recommendations for Backpack Safety

Helpful Suggestions

  1. What to look for in a backpack
  2. How to wear the backpack
  3. How to load the backpack
  4. Alternatives to reduce backpack weight

Proper backpack safety begins with having the correct equipment. There are several things you should look for in a backpack.

A good back pack :

The backpack should fit the user. This is particularly important with smaller children. An overly large backpack will result in the weight being carried too low on the carrier's back putting harmful stress and strain on the spine.

The backpack should be made of a sturdy material. Not only does this prolong the life of the backpack, it also helps to hold the load close to the spine. It should have a padded waist strap to help stabilize the weight and prevent it from swinging side to side as the child walks. The waist strap also helps to take the load off the shoulders and distributes more of the load on to the pelvis which is better suited to support the load.

The backpack should have side compression straps to pull the load closer to the spine. This will again reduce the load on the lower back. A chest strap also helps to hold the entire load closer to the spine and keeps the pack from swaying.

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How to wear the backpack

The backpack should be worn high on the back not low and hanging below the waist line. When the weight is too low there is more compressive load placed on the low back and forces the spine to curve in too much. This is particularly dangerous for children with "sway back" or "hyperlordosis." This is often seen in overweight children.

The backpack should be carried evenly on both shoulders and not slung over one shoulder. If it is carried on only one shoulder then the strain is on one side of the spine. This, in turn, causes the compression of one side of the spine and a strain on the muscles and soft tissues on the opposite side. This can lead to over-development of muscles on one side of the spine and cause the spine to curve to the side - similar to what is seen in scoliosis. Shoulder bags which are meant to be carried on one side are particularly bad because all the weight is pulling to one side of the body.

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Backpack too low

Proper Backpack Position

Backpack worn too low

Backpack worn too low

Pack should not be worn on one shoulder

Pack should not be worn on one shoulder

How to load the backpack

The backpack should be loaded so that the heaviest items are located close to the spine and near the bottom of the backpack. Smaller, lighter items can be loaded on top of the heavier ones. The side compression straps, if available should be used to pull the load closer to the spine. This brings the weight closer to your center of gravity and stabilizes the load.

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The maximum weight of the backpack should not exceed 15% of the child's weight. Use the following chart to help you determine the maximum recommended weight of your child's backpack.
Child's Weight (lbs) Maximum Recommended Weight
60 lbs 9 lbs
70 lbs 10.5 lbs
80 lbs 12 lbs
100 lbs 15 lbs
120 lbs 18 lbs
130 lbs 19.5 lbs
140 lbs 21 lbs
150 lbs 22.5 lbs
160 lbs 24 lbs

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Alternatives to reduce backpack weight

Only those items really necessary should be carried in the backpack. Unnecessary items such as computer games, roller blades, or other items that are really not needed should not be carried.

Once at school, leave as much as you can in the school locker. Carrying more than you need only stresses your spine unnecessarily.

Ask if there are additional books available. If the school has extra books, leave one at home and borrow one to use in class or during study hall and leave that book at school at the end of the day.

Parents should encourage the school to buy enough extra books for students to have a copy available for use in the class room and library/study hall, as well as one to bring home. Parents should encourage the schools to purchase their books in multiple volumes when it is possible. Then the side of the books that the children have to carry will be smaller and lighter.

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