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Backpack rules for back to school

It’s just a few weeks before kids start hauling backpacks stuffed to the brim with notebooks, textbooks and even a laptop or tablet. But all that weight being carried around can be a threat to kids’ backs. 
Phil Walter, Getty Images


According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 24,300 individuals were treated in hospitals and doctors’ offices for injuries related to backpacks in 2012, and more than 9,500 of those injuries were kids ages 5 to 18.

In some cases, backpacks can weigh between 20 and 40 pounds.

What can parents do to make sure they get the right backpack for their child?

“Some manufacturers make backpacks designed specifically for young children between the ages of 5 and 10. You want backpacks to have wide, padded, ‘s-shaped’ shoulder straps,” said Dr. Joseph Bednar, a Mahwah chiropractor. “It also should have a waist strap. That will help keep the load close to the back so it is proportioned better, and help the child withstand the weight of the backpack.”

The general rule of thumb is that a backpack should not weigh more than 5 to 15 percent of a child’s weight. “I like to say that a backpack should not weigh more than 10 percent of the weight of a child. So, if a child weighs 80 pounds, their backpack should not weigh more than eight pounds. If you want to go a little higher, it shouldn’t be more than 12 pounds at the very most,” Bednar said.

If a child is walking erect while the backpack is on their back, then it is not too heavy. If a child is lurching forward, that is an obvious sign that the load is too much.

“When you see a child counteracting the weight on their back to stabilize their spine, that can cause problems to the back, neck and shoulders,” Bednar said. “I’ve also seen cases where children suffer from headaches as a result of an overweight backpack.”

Alternatives to backpacks include messenger bags, but if a child uses one, Bednar said they should alternate the shoulder they wear it on to provide balance. Rolling backpacks are another option, although some schools do not allow them.
“I always tell my patients to keep four things in mind when it comes to a backpack – choose the right backpack, pack it right, lift it right and wear it right,” Bednar said.

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