School is right around the corner—time to get those backpacks ready! A proper fitting backpack is important to prevent physical pain such as discomfort, fatigue, and muscle soreness, especially in the lower back. Welcome to Backpack Safety 101.

The 1, 2, 3’s of Basic Backpack Wearing from the American Occupational Association (AOTA):

1. Pack It.

It is important when packing a backpack to utilize the different compartments and pockets to distribute weight correctly. The backpack should be no more than 10% of your child’s weight or can cause falls and back pain. Tips for packing:

  • Heavier items closer to the back center of the backpack
  • Lighter items in the front of the backpack
  • Sharp items away from the back

2. Put it On

Teach your child to pick up the backpack by bending and lifting in the knees instead of the waist to prevent back injury.

3. Adjust and Carry

Recommendations from the AOTA for backpack safety included always using both shoulder straps to prevent injury. Adjust the sternum strap and secure the hip belt. The backpack should rest snugly against the back.

Watch for warning signs that the backpack is too heavy, including:

  • Difficulty when putting on or taking off the backpack
  • Pain when wearing the backpack
  • Tingling or numbness in the arms or legs
  • Red strap marks over the anterior part of the shoulders
  • Any change in side-to-side posture while wearing the backpack

The AOTA urges parents and caregivers to consider the following when selecting a backpack this school year:

  • Appropriate Size: Make sure the height of the backpack extends from approximately 2 inches below the shoulder blades to waist level, or slightly above the waist.
  • Shoulders: Backpacks should have well-padded shoulder straps that can be worn on both shoulders so when packed with books, the weight can be evenly balanced by the student.
  • Hip Belt: Backpacks with a hip or chest belt take some strain off sensitive neck and shoulder muscles and improve the students balance
  • Fit: Just as your child will try on clothes and shoes when back-to-school shopping, experts say it is important to try on backpacks, too.

Always remember: Pack it Light, Wear it Right!

A child wearing a backpack that is too heavy or incorrectly can contribute to not only pain but poor posture and tingling arms. Find more backpack strategies for parents and students here. Our team of pediatric therapists are always willing to answer questions regarding backpack safety!