6 Backpack Safety Tips

Exams. Pop quizzes. Homework. School can be a pain in the neck, figuratively. But if school is literally causing problems for your neck or back, your backpack may be to blame. Believe it or not, overloaded and poorly-positioned backpacks can actually cause serious injury. In a 2004 study published in the Journal of Pediatric Orthopedics, 64% of 11- to 15-year-olds who used backpacks also complained of pain.

If you’ve ever had back or neck pain, you know how uncomfortable it can be. The pain is often caused by pressure on the disks of the vertebrae. These disks are responsible for spacing out the vertebrae, holding them in place, and acting as shock absorbers. As you get older, your disks wear down or degenerate, causing chronic pain, herniated disks, and nerve damage. Putting pressure (like the added weight of a heavy backpack) on these disks wears them down even faster.

So what’s a student to do? The stuff inside that pack is essential to survival (or at least to passing math), but you don’t want to pay a painful price in years to come. Fortunately, following a few simple rules can ensure that you’re using your backpack properly and safely.
  1. Choose the right sized pack. Adult-sized backpacks are made for adults, not children. Make sure to buy a pack that is appropriate for your body size. Most stores and catalogs list this information in the product description. If not, just ask. A general rule of thumb is that when the shoulder straps are adjusted so that they are snug, the bottom of the backpack should be about two inches above your waist.
  2. Lighten your load. Your filled backpack should weigh no more than 15% of your body weight. (Multiply your weight in by .15 to get the maximum weight you should carry.) A 140 pound person should carry no more than 21 pounds, and an 80 pound child should keep it under 12 pounds. To lighten the load, first remove any non-essentials. Even an extra hairbrush and a few notebooks can add weight. If your bag is too heavy, even when pared down to the basics, remove a textbook and carry it in your arms.
  3. Lift with your legs. To lift and put on your backpack properly: face the pack, bending at your knees—not your waist—then lift with your legs and apply one shoulder strap and then the other.
  4. Position your pack properly. Wearing your backpack on one shoulder can cause muscle strain and imbalance. Wear both shoulder straps, and adjust them so that they are comfortably snug. If the backpack has a waist strap, use it. It will distribute the weight of the pack more evenly. And position your body properly too, by maintaining good posture while you’re wearing your pack (and even when you aren’t!).
  5. Get and stay fit. Maintaining your overall fitness by exercising and staying active can increase your strength and ability to carry heavy backpack loads, which will reduce your chance of injury. Cardio, strength training and flexibility are essential to your health and fitness.
  6. Set a time limit. Try to wear your backpack for 30 minutes or less. Unless you’re on an all-day hike or jaunting across a sprawling campus, this rule shouldn’t be hard to follow. If you’re stuck wearing it for longer periods, try to carry the lightest load possible, and try to follow all of the other rules to a "T."
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Member Comments

Good info for all parents Report
I like this post
rsing-school/ Report
best post Like this post Report
Thank you for the article. Report
A very important article ! Report
I didn't like backpack because I was so little. I didn't like them. Report
Very very very useful blog for everyone, i use backpacks for long time, but sometimes it creates pain in my neck. But now i am save from any kind of pain by backpacks.
kpacks.com/ Report
I am considering to buy a on-wheels sort of bag. I have to carry 4-5 bags almost everyday to school (backpack, bag for gym clothes, lunchbox, purse and some days, computer bag!) so I am having pain in my back those days.

Thank you for the tips ! Report
Overweight backpacks are a hazard and I have the medical bills to prove it: my son required physical therapy for his subluxed (partially dislocated) shoulder during high school. They weren't allowed to use the ones with wheels - "tripping hazard" in the halls during passing periods.

I realize there is not a good solution for some people, but everyone should be aware that the risks are very real. Be careful out there! If you do have to carry heavy backpacks, make sure you keep your shoulders strong to avoid rotator cuff problems. Report
This is my daughter's first year of using a backpack, and we sure wish we could lighten it! College textbooks aren't all that light, and her average load is 5 textbooks + a notebook or two. She uses a wheelchair to get around, and for the first time we've begun to use the tip bars so she doesn't flip over due to the extra weight.

Keeping the weight down sound great -- but sometimes it's just not possible. Report
Like others have said - it's all fine and dandy to WANT to keep the weight of the pack at 15% of the child's weight, but there's not a school or teacher I've run into who is paying attention to how much the books they insist be carried home for homework weigh. When I was in school, there was science, history, literature, Spanish, and Geometry - all with big books (literature with two - one the classic we were studying) - all determined to assign daily homework that required use of the books.

Maybe someday e-readers will have gotten to the point where a child can carry a single reading in their pack with each necessary text book downloaded. (Considering the replacement cost of the books versus the cost of e-readers, I'm surprised it isn't happening already.) Report
I think these tips are great but I agree with some of the people before me. I am an accounting major and this coming up semester I have 4 books that are all 3 inches thick or more. I can't just not take them to class. Report
It's good to try to fix these problems, but for a lot of students also almost useless. When I was in high school, my backpack weighed about 25 pounds, being only the books I had to take home for my homework. I mean, I had 7 classes a day! I could totally lighten my backpack, but then I'd be missing homework.

In law school, it was insane. A typical day I'd need to carry three or four MASSIVE textbooks. My backpack was full plus I'd usually have another in my hands. I had to carry a bag for my laptop as well. And then I had to add a purse/bag, because you have to have money, lunch and sometimes dinner, feminine supplies, etc. I'm sure most days I was lugging over 50 pounds, sometimes much more.

Bottom line, safety precautions are great, but nothing will change as long as students' lifestyles must be the way they are. Report
I feel that schools should have books in the classroom as well as the student should have the same text book at home they get at the beginning of the year and return at the end of the year. So they are not having to lug the books to school too. Only the notebooks go back and forth. Report
Yeah... my college provides computers to every student, and as such, most profs make us bring them to class for activities and such. Meaning i"m lugging that around along with books. (Thankfully i don't need many of those though!) But I put my backpack on the front seat of my car. It has a sensor in it, that starts to beep if you have past a certain amount of weight in the seat, thinking it's a child or something. I can't remember the number, but it's more than 20 lbs. Sad day. Report


About The Author

Liza Barnes
Liza Barnes
Liza has two bachelor's degrees: one in health promotion and education and a second in nursing. A registered nurse and mother, regular exercise and cooking are top priorities for her. See all of Liza's articles.