National School Backpack Awareness Day

Backpacks have become as fundamental to the school experience as No. 2 pencils and an apple for the teacher. And when used properly, they are extremely useful, reducing neck, shoulder and back strain by distributing weight evenly. Unfortunately, muscle strain can happen if the backpack is too heavy or carried by a single shoulder strap, numbness or tingling can occur in the arm if the straps are too narrow or under-padded, and a heavy or bulky backpack can lead to the carrier losing balance and falling. One thing that cannot be blamed on backpack is causing or worsening a spine curve (scoliosis) – the orthopaedic community has not found any evidence of a causal relationship between backpacks and spine deformities. Recommendations for safe backpack use include

  • Choose a lightweight backpack of a strong material so that sharp objects do not poke through
  • Multiple compartments can help with organization, as well as weight distribution
  • Make sure the packed backpack weighs less than 15% of the child’s own weight
  • Encouraging judicious packing: only carrying what needs to be carried, and encouraging the child to store items in their locker that are not absolutely necessary to have with them
  • Use both straps, adjust them snugly, and use a waist strap for large or heavy backpacks
  • Place heavier items low in the backpack, and centered on the back
  • In special cases, such as after surgery or injury, request a second set of books that can be at home, to avoid having to transport texts between home and school


Contributing author:

Harold J. P. van Bosse, MD, FAAOS

Shriners Hospital for Children® – Philadelphia

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