boy wearing backpack in school

According to the American Occupational Therapy Association, more than 79 million students in the United States carry a backpack and an estimated 55 percent of them are carrying a backpack that is too heavy. That’s more than 43 million students who may be doing damage to their bodies with heavy books, electronic devices, and other school supplies.

Incorrect wear of backpacks and bookbags can also contribute to health problems including pain in the back, neck, and shoulders, or the development of poor posture. Making sure that your children wear their backpacks properly can help prevent pain and posture problems. Follow the seven backpack safety tips below to help your children wear their backpacks safely and correctly, and avoid over packing this school year.

Tip #1: Start with a lightweight backpack.

Make sure the backpack is made of a lightweight but durable material.

Tip #2: Make sure the shoulder straps are wide and padded.

Wide, padded straps provide support and prevent the straps from becoming too tight. Your child’s straps should be snug, but not so tight that they cause discomfort.

Tip #3: The back should also be padded.

Padding that sits against your child’s back will provide additional support and prevent discomfort.

Tip #4: Look for a backpack with a waist strap.

A waist strap holds the contents closer to your child’s back, which can help him or her maintain balance.

Tip #5: Multiple compartments are a plus.

If your child’s backpack has multiple compartments, it will be easier to evenly distribute the weight of the items inside. The heaviest items should be packed low and toward the center of the bag.

Tip #6: Both straps should be worn at all times.

Make sure your child is always wearing both straps. Wearing both straps can also help distribute the weight more evenly and prevent your child from leaning to one side, which can cause pain in the neck, back, or shoulders. It also makes losing his or her balance less likely.

Tip #7: Do not overload!

Your child’s backpack should weight no more than 15 percent of his or her total body weight. Anything more can force children to slouch or hunch to compensate for the extra weight. Remove any items that are unnecessary, and encourage your children to carry heavier items in their arms, if possible.

If your child complains of back pain or discomfort, be sure to take a look at what is in his or her backpack. Encourage your child to carry his or her backpack according to the steps above. Backpacks with wheels are also an option for children experiencing discomfort. If pain persists, it is recommended you follow up with your child’s doctor.

Make sure your child has a happy, healthy school year ahead. Visit the UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh website.