Back to School

How to choose a backpack for your child

By Cindy Clark, MS, OTR/L, BCP, CIMI/L

Every fall, millions of children head back to school wearing backpacks filled with books, water bottles and school supplies. What many parents may not realize is that if their child’s backpack is too heavy or doesn’t fit properly it can lead to back pain or even injury. Up to half of all students have back pain, fatigue and muscle soreness related to improper fit and wearing. Many students experience ongoing low back pain for more than six months and this can follow them throughout their school years and into adulthood.

How can you prevent this? The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) urges parents and caregivers to consider the following when selecting and wearing a backpack this school year:

  1. Appropriate size – Make sure the height of the backpack extends from approximately two inches below the shoulders to waist level, or fit in the curve of the lower back.
  2. Shoulder Straps – Backpacks should have well-padded shoulder straps that can be worn on both shoulders so when packed with books the weight can be evenly balanced by the student. Shoulders and necks have many blood vessels and nerves that can cause pain and tingling in the neck, arms and hands when too much pressure is applied by unpadded shoulder straps.
  3. Adjust the Shoulder Straps – Adjust the shoulder straps so that the pack fits snugly on the child’s back. A pack that hangs loosely from the back can pull the child backwards and strain muscles.
  4. Hip belt – Backpacks with a hip or chest belt take some strain off sensitive neck and shoulder muscles and improve the student’s balance.
  5. Right Fit – Just as your child will try on clothes and shoes when back-to-school shopping, experts say it is important to try on backpacks too. “The right fit should be your top criteria when selecting your child’s backpack,” says Karen Jacobs, EdD, OTR/L. “If you order online, be sure that the seller has a return policy just in case the backpack is not quite the best fit for your child and needs to be exchanged.”
  6. Weight – Your child should carry no more that 10% of his or her body weight. For example, if your child weighs 100 pounds, they should carry 10 pounds or less. If their pack is too heavy, check to see if there are items that can be left at school or put in a wheeled carrier. When putting items in the backpack, put the heaviest items at the back so they rest against your child’s back.

Here is a great video to see more information on choosing a backpack.

How to Choose a Backpack

For more ideas and research on backpack safety, go to the Backpack Awareness Council website at:

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