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Backpacks are a practical and useful way to get textbooks and supplies to and from school. When used properly, they should ease your child’s load, not make it worse.

Improper backpack usage among children can lead to neck pain, headaches, back pain and hip pain. Preventing these injuries may require parents to check in, observe and gently remind their kids to make some adjustments to how they use their backpacks.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Pediatric Orthopedic Society of North America offers some tips for parents to help children wear their backpacks safely and correctly:

  • Choose the right backpack. Your child’s backpack should have two broad, padded shoulder straps, a padded back, a waist or chest strap, and compartments. These features help distribute the weight of the contents more evenly throughout the body.
  • Educate your child about proper backpack wear. Keep straps on both shoulders and use the waist strap. Adjust straps to fit snugly.
  • Pack safely. Help your child understand how to distribute the weight properly. Put the heaviest items low and near the center of the back. Make sure the bottom of the backpack rests in the curve of the lower back. 
  • Check the weight. Make sure your child is not carrying more than 15 percent of his or her body weight in their backpack. If you notice them leaning forward to support the backpack’s weight, then it’s too heavy.
  • Lighten the load. Encourage your child to clean the backpack weekly and take out unneeded items, store items in a locker at school when possible, and take only what’s needed to school. Carrying heavier items in their arms will also alleviate some of that extra weight.

Kids aren’t likely to relate any pain they’re experiencing to their backpack, so it’s important to check in with them.

Parents can catch signs or symptoms of injury by simply asking their child how they like their backpack or how it feels. This may prompt your child to share any discomfort they may have. Also observe them. Are they leaning to the side or leaning forward? The child is not going to catch that as often as the parent, and correcting these habits can prevent injuries.

If adjusting how your child is wearing their backpack doesn’t eliminate pain, seek help from your child’s primary care provider or physical therapist.

Megan Stankowski, PT, DPT, LAT, is a physical therapist, athletic trainer with Aspirus.