Ask a PT: Backpacks and Kids

McKenzie Murphy backbackQuestion: My son has entered middle school, and none of the kids use their lockers for their books because it is too far away to get to and from between classes. This means he is carrying all of his books, jacket, and lunch into every classroom in his overloaded backpack all day long. Won’t this lead to an injury?

Answer: Yes, common sense rules the day when it comes to backpacks and injuries. Certainly, carrying an overloaded backpack all day long can increase wear and tear on the back and neck, and we have treated patients who are struggling with back pain with their heavy backpacks creating a significant burden of pain. Since we have yet to be successful in convincing teens that rolling backpacks are the new, cool thing on campus, we do have a few tips to share.

  1. Adjust the straps to keep the backpack high on the back, so the weight is carried close to the body.
  2. Have the right backpack to support both the size of items and heaviness of books, laptops, and other items, so the backpack does more of the work than your child.
  3. Get everything out of the backpack that is not necessary. Have money to buy lunch versus bringing it. Don’t bring textbooks you don’t need for the day. Keep books you don’t need at home at school in your locker.
  4. Use jump drives in lieu of full laptops or Chrome books if possible.
  5. Select a well-built backpack with wide, padded straps and a padded back.
  6. Try to limit the weight carried in the backpack to no more than 10-15% of your child’s weight.
  7. Load heavy items in the bottom of the pack.
  8. Always use both straps to carry a heavy backpack, and bonus if you buckle the additional waist strap!
  9. When hanging out talking to friends before class, drop the backpack on the floor! Don’t carry it any more than you have to while you are getting to and from class.
  10. Don’t wait if you are in pain. Double check your posture and your backpack load and carrying style to reduce any back or neck pain. If pain persists, seek help while the pain is still acute (in 1-2 weeks) instead of waiting until the pain is unbearable and chronic. Our manual physical therapists at MotionWorks Physical Therapy are a great resource and are able to successfully treat back pain, neck pain, and headaches in patients of all ages.