young girl walking with a backpack

Backpack Safety: Pack it Light, Wear it Right!

By Zachary D. Campbell, Lawyer at Metzger Wickersham

Can you hear the collective sigh of relief from parents everywhere? Now that it's time for the kids to go back to school, many parents are either rejoicing and daydreaming about what they’re going to do with extra free time or tearfully realizing that the little ones will no longer be at home during the day. But before you take a sigh of relief, it’s time to get them organized, stocked with back-to-school supplies, and armed with an ergonomic backpack.

As students return to school, they will break out their new backpacks to lug school supplies, books, and lunch boxes to and from school. Additionally, most students are now lugging laptops or Chromebook computers along with other supplies in backpacks. Unfortunately, the added weight from a laptop puts extra strain on a student’s back and body.

However, many school districts have reopened on a part-time basis with a hybrid schedule. With students returning to school, they have been able to break out their new backpacks to lug school supplies, books, and lunch boxes to and from school. Additionally, most students are now lugging laptops or Chromebook computers along with other supplies in backpacks. Unfortunately, the added weight from a laptop puts extra strain on a student’s back and body.

Most experts agree it is time to lighten the load of your child’s backpack. A heavy backpack can cause numerous problems in developing children. Neck, back, and shoulder problems can be a common issue caused by a heavy backpack, which can also lead to bad posture.

The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) recommends a backpack weigh no more than 5-10% of your child’s weight. Teach your child to load a backpack with the heaviest items first closest to the bottom and the center of the back of the backpack and to make use of the multiple compartments to distribute the load.

7 Ergonomic Backpack Features

According to The National Safety Council, when selecting a backpack, look for:

  • An appropriate size: A backpack should not be wider than your child's torso or hang more than 4 inches below the waist
  • Padded, adjustable shoulder straps to help distribute the weight on your child’s back without digging into their shoulders
  • Padded back to protect against contents inside the backpack poking into your child’s back
  • Waist and chest straps to help distribute the weight of the backpack more evenly across your child’s back
  • Multiple compartments to help position the weight more effectively
  • Compression straps to stabilize the contents
  • Reflective material to allow your child to be seen when walking to and from school

How to Use a Backpack Correctly

Check the fit of the backpack:

  • Make sure your child uses both straps when carrying the backpack; using one strap shifts the weight to one side and causes muscle pain and posture problems
  • Make certain the shoulder straps are tightened so the backpack is fitted to your child’s back; a dangling backpack can cause spinal misalignment and pain
  • Encourage your child to use the chest, waist and compression straps, and to adjust them to the load

Parents and caregivers, pick up your child’s backpack from time to time, and let your children know you've got their back. Help your children determine what is absolutely necessary to carry to and from school, and teach them that proper backpack use will help their growing bodies in the long run.

Remember, to prevent back pain, get smart about backpack safety – wear it light, wear it right. Metzger Wickersham wishes all students a pain-free school year!

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