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Backpacks are a great way for kids to carry books, papers and supplies to and from school.

By design, backpacks spread the weight of this cargo across some of the body’s strongest muscles. Still, over 6,000 children each year experience backpack-related injuries according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. (CPSC).

Carrying too heavy a backpack can strain the neck, back or shoulders. Here are my guidelines for safely loading and carrying a backpack:

Backpack Choice

  • Choose a lightweight backpack with 2 wide padded shoulder straps. A waist strap will also help keep the bag stable.
  • A padded back will help protect your child from sharp objects carried in the bag.
  • The backpack should cover no more than three-quarters of the length of your child's back.

Loading and Wearing the Backpack

  • Carry only what is needed. Don't carry a whole school day's set of books at once. Plan to switch books out at a locker if possible.
  • Load heavier items low and toward the center.
  • Position the backpack in the middle of the back. It should sit 2 inches above the waist. 
  • Tighten the straps so that the pack sits close to the back. 
  • Use both straps. Remind your child not to sling a backpack over one shoulder. 

How Heavy is too Heavy?

When fully loaded, a backpack should not exceed 20% of your child's weight. Do the math:

  • A 60 pound child should carry no more than 12 pounds
  • An 80 pound child should carry no more than 16 pounds
  • 20 pounds is maximum for a 100 pound child
  • 30 pounds is maximum for a 150 pound child

If your child has to lean forward to carry a pack, it is too heavy.

Don't Ignore Pain

Make sure to talk with your child about any discomfort from the backpack. Numbness, tingling, or discomfort in the arms or legs may indicate poor backpack fit or too much weight being carried.

Talk with the school about ways your child can have a lighter load. Make sure his schedule allows trips to his locker. If some books are too heavy, consider buying an additional set to keep at home. 

If the pain continues, talk with your child's health care provider.

Patrick McCarville, MD

Methodist Physicians Clinic Valley

Growing up in rural Nebraska, Dr. Patrick McCarville was inspired by the three physicians in the area. He followed in their footsteps becoming a family physician in Valley, Nebraska. Being able to care for a whole family's well-being from prenatal to parents is Dr. McCarville's main focus. This focus carries over to his own family as he prioritizes time with his kids helping to develop them into productive citizens. When not meeting with patients, Dr. McCarville can be found comp ...

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