August 10, 2010


COLUMBIA, Tenn. — While a backpack is one of the best ways school children can carry books and school supplies, when worn incorrectly, they can be a cause of back and neck pain, muscle strain, joint pain and improper posture. Cindy Kington, director of physical therapy at Maury Regional Medical Center, provides parents and children insight in proper backpack usage.

“According to the American Physical Therapy Association, 55 percent of children carry backpack loads heavier than 15 percent of their body weight, the maximum weight recommended by professionals,” said Kington. “Back injury can occur when a child uses harmful postures such as arching the back, leaning forward or—if only one strap is used—leaning to one side.

To prevent injury while wearing a backpack, consider the following:

Always use both shoulder straps. Use of one strap causes one side of the body to bear the weight of the backpack, which can strain muscles and may increase curvature of the spine.

Position the backpack over the strongest mid-back muscles. The back and abdominal muscles work together to stabilize the trunk of the body and keep proper postural alignment. Adjust the straps so that the pack is close to the body and rests in the middle of the back.

Lighten the load. A backpack should be no more than 10 to 15 percent of a child’s bodyweight. Carry only those items that are needed during certain parts of the day, planning multiple trips to the locker to change out items.

Organize the backpack. Place the heaviest items closest to the center of the back. Use the compartment to help distribute weight evenly.

When picking up the backpack, lift with the knees. Bend and squat using the knees instead of bending at the waist.

When purchasing a new backpack, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents look for a lightweight pack with two wide, padded shoulder straps and a padded back. A waist belt can help to distribute the weight more evenly across the body.

“To decrease your child’s risk of injury, parents should ask their child if they experience any pain, numbness or tingling when wearing their backpack. Assist your child with making the proper adjustments to the pack or consider buying a backpack that is more suitable to his or her size,” said Kington.