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Backpack Safety

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Backpacks are a popular and practical way for children and teenagers to carry schoolbooks and supplies. They are designed to distribute the weight of the load among some of the body's strongest muscles. When used correctly, backpacks can be a good way to carry the necessities of the school day.

Tips for Proper Use of Backpacks

Backpacks that are too heavy or are worn incorrectly can cause problems for children and teenagers. Improperly used backpacks may injure muscles and joints. This can lead to severe back, neck, and shoulder pain, as well as posture problems.

Although they are linked to posture problems, heavy backpacks do not cause scoliosis. Scoliosis is a sideways curve of the spine that often shows up in children during adolescence.

The following guidelines can help your family use backpacks safely.

Student with backpack

The correct use of two wide, well-padded shoulder straps will help distribute the weight of the backpack.

Choosing the Right Backpack

When choosing a backpack, look for one that is appropriate for the size of your child. In addition, look for some of the following features:

  • Wide, padded shoulder straps
  • Two shoulder straps
  • Padded back
  • Waist strap
  • Lightweight backpack
  • Rolling backpack

Injury Prevention

To prevent injury when using a backpack, do the following:

  • Always use both shoulder straps when carrying the backpack. The correct use of both of the wide, well-padded shoulder straps will help distribute the weight of the backpack across the back.
  • Tighten the straps to keep the load closer to the back.
  • Organize the items inside so that heavier items are low and towards the center of the backpack.
  • Pack light, removing items if the backpack is too heavy. Carry only those items that are required for the day and, if possible, leave unnecessary books at home or school.
  • Lift properly by bending at the knees when picking up a backpack.
  • Consider using a crossbody bag as a good alternative for carrying books and supplies.

Tips for Parents

Parents can help ensure their child's safety by doing the following:

  • Encourage your child or teenager to tell you about any numbness, tingling, or discomfort in the arms or legs. These symptoms may indicate poor backpack fit or too much weight being carried.
  • Watch your child put on and take off the backpack to see if it is a struggle. If the backpack seems too heavy, have your child remove some of the books and carry them in his or her arms to ease the load on the back.
  • Do not ignore any back pain in a child or teenager.
  • Talk to the school about lightening the load. Team up with other parents to encourage changes.
  • Encourage your child to stop at his or her locker when time permits throughout the day to drop off or exchange heavier books.
  • If your child has back pain that does not improve, consider buying a second set of textbooks to keep at home.
POSNA logo

Reviewed by members of
POSNA (Pediatric Orthopaedic Society of North America)

The Pediatric Orthopaedic Society of North America (POSNA) is a group of board eligible/board certified orthopaedic surgeons who have specialized training in the care of children's musculoskeletal health. 
OrthoKids logo

Learn more about this topic at POSNA's OrthoKids website:

Backpack Safety

Find an Orthopedist
Find an Orthopedist

Last Reviewed

August 2018

AAOS does not endorse any treatments, procedures, products, or physicians referenced herein. This information is provided as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice. Anyone seeking specific orthopaedic advice or assistance should consult his or her orthopaedic surgeon, or locate one in your area through the AAOS Find an Orthopaedist program on this website.