Beacon Ortho: When kids go back to school, make sure their backpacks aren’t too heavy

Dr. Grime suggests some bad habits to avoid.

Dr Grime. File photo.

Back-to-school preparation

The students get excited. Athletes start two days a day. Parents buy school supplies, new clothes and shoes. They arrange haircuts, get athletic physiquebuy new glasses and organize all sorts of last minute “back to school” things to do or buy.

For example, getting a new backpack. While previously seen as just a fashion statement or just a way to move things between home and school, backpacks have also become a back-to-school essential. It is therefore important to select them – and use them – in a safe and appropriate way.

What is weighing down your child?

That might not sound like a problem, but research shows that lugging an overstuffed backpack day in and day out can cause injury and real pain. However, this repetitive act can be dealt with proactively. Many things lead to back pain – sports injuries or physical exertion, poor posture when sitting, or even long periods of inactivity. And some kids suffer from back pain simply from lugging their entire locker’s worth of books, school supplies, and assorted personal items around all day. It’s a problem with a simple solution: lighten the burden on your child.

How heavy is the weight?

Most doctors and physical therapists agree that children should carry no more than 10-15% of their body weight in their packs. Parents and students need to be aware says Dr. Grime of Beacon Orthopedics & Sports Medicine. “Carrying a bag that’s too heavy can lead to back problems and muscle strain,” he said. He went on to say that “too heavy backpacks even created tripping hazards.”

How to choose the right backpack?

Although school backpacks come in all sizes, colors, fabrics, and shapes, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents look for the following when choosing the right backpack:

  • A light bag
  • Two wide padded shoulder straps
  • One padded inner side (which rests against the student’s back)
  • Multiple compartments

Go ahead and let your child express their personal sense of style, but make sure they do it safely. They use the strongest muscles in the body – the back and abdominal muscles – to support the weight of the bag. When worn correctly (on both shoulders), they distribute weight more evenly across the body. This helps reduce back, shoulder and neck injuries.

Some bad habits to avoid:

  • When a backpack full of books is placed incorrectly on the shoulders, the force of the weight can pull a child backwards. To compensate, a child may lean forward at the hips or arch the back, which can cause abnormal compression of the spine. Heavy weight can cause the development of pain in the shoulders, neck and back.
  • When the backpack is carried on one shoulder (for whatever reason), the youngster may end up leaning to one side to compensate for the extra weight. They may develop lower and upper back pain and strain their shoulders and neck.
  • Using backpacks with narrow, tight straps that dig into the shoulders can interfere with circulation and nerves. These types of straps can contribute to tingling, numbness, and weakness in arms and hands.

Actions Parents Should Take Regarding Backpacks at the Beginning of the School Year

  • Ask students to make more use of their lockers or desks throughout the day, storing their books and supplies so they don’t have to carry so many things in the backpack all day.
  • Encourage them to limit the carrying of unnecessary items – laptops, cell phones and video games that can add extra pounds to a bag.
  • Ask them to bring home only the books needed for homework or studying each evening.
  • Make sure they pick up the backpack the right way – bending their knees and grabbing the backpack with both hands as they lift it to their shoulders.

If your child begins to experience neck or back pain, you may wish to consult the professionals at Beacon Orthopedics. They treat patients of all ages for various injuries and ailments. You can always schedule a diagnostic appointment at one of the Beacon locations in the area. You can even visit one of their Saturday morning injury treatment clinics or area urgent care facilities if needed.

Go to or call 513-354-3700 to find a Beacon store near you or to book an appointment.

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