The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons advises that a child's backpack should be no more than 10 percent to 15 percent of the child's body weight. That means an 80-pound child should carry a bag no heavier than 12 pounds.
According to Israel, children in middle school are at most risk because they need to carry numerous supplies but may not be big enough yet to handle the weight.
Israel recommends the following steps to take the burden off your child's back:
- Make sure the backpack follows the 15 percent rule. An overweight backpack can force the wearer to bend forward, putting strain on the back rather than on the shoulders.
- Buy a backpack with several compartments so the load can be evenly distributed. If a backpack has just one large compartment, the contents tend to shift with movement and can cause undue strain on isolated areas of the back.
- Make sure pointy or bulky objects are packed away from the area that will rest on the back to prevent injury or painful blisters.
- Tell your child not to sling the backpack over one shoulder. That may be considered cool in some circles but it shifts all of the weight to one side and can cause muscle spasms and lower back pain.
- Make sure the shoulder straps are padded. They are more comfortable and prevent irritation to the shoulders.
- The shoulder straps also should be adjustable so the backpack can be properly fitted to the body. Shoulder straps that are too loose can cause the backpack to dangle uncomfortably and cause misalignment and pain.
- If a backpack is too heavy for your student, talk to the teacher. Maybe your child can leave the heaviest books at school and bring home only lighter handout materials or workbooks.
- Encourage your child to use the school locker during the day. Some kids lug around all their school supplies to avoid trips to the locker.
- A wheeled bag like those used as carry-ons in the airport makes a good alternative to a backpack. Israel warns, though, that a wheeled bag might be considered "uncool."