Back to School Backpack Safety

BY: Mike Andrews, PTA, BS, CEAS, Center Manager of Strawberry Plains, TN Center

With the new school year underway, I think it’s important to point out something that I didn’t realize was such an issue until I picked up my daughter’s backpack.

I was shocked at how heavy the pack was.  She informed me that everything in the pack was absolutely necessary and could not be downsized to make it lighter and, in my mind, safer.

An article on the CNN Health website provided some interesting statistics.  The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that U.S. emergency rooms treated 7,300 injuries in 2006 because of backpacks.  Sprains and strains were the most common complaints.

“We see quite a few children with back pain during the school year,” says Dr. Robert Bruce of the Emory School of Medicine.  “Many attribute their back pain to heavy book bags.”

It is suggested children carry no more than 15 percent of their body weight.  In other words, a 100-pound child should not wear a backpack that weighs more than 15 pounds. Besides back pain, some other complaints were tingling or numbness, red marks, and shoulder pain while struggling to put on or take off the pack.

“I put backpack problems into the overuse injury category,” Bruce explains. “You have a child who is doing something that is overusing, over-stressing or overstraining their body.”

Bruce counsels his patients on proper backpack wear and ergonomics, often starting with choosing the right type of bag. He suggests rolling book bags are a safe option, but acknowledges many schools will not allow them.


  • When choosing a bag that will be worn across the back, make sure the straps are wide and well-padded.  Some have waist straps, which help distribute the weight over a larger surface area.
  • The bottom of the pack should not rest more than 4 inches below the child’s waistline.
  • Load the heaviest items closer to the child’s torso and arrange the materials so they won’t slide or shift around.
  • Periodically inspect the contents to remove items that may not be necessary to carry all the time.

While it may be too early in the school year for students to have accumulated too much to carry, it’s never too early to prevent a problem from happening as the year progresses.  I wonder whether there are any statistics on parents getting injured lifting their child’s bulky backpacks.

Have a great — and safe –school year!


Back to School Backpack Safety - Drayer Physical Therapy Institute