Quick Tips: Using Backpacks Safely

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Backpacks are handy for carrying books and lots of other things. But if they're not used right, they can strain muscles and even cause back pain.

Backpack safety is important for everyone. It's especially important for children, who can be hurt by regularly carrying too much weight or by not wearing their backpacks safely.

  • Choose the right backpack.

    Look for these features:

    • Light weight. The backpack itself should be made of light material so there is no added weight for your child to carry.
    • Wide, padded shoulder straps. A loaded pack will dig into the shoulders if the straps are too skinny.
    • Waist belt. This is an important feature. It takes some weight off of the back and transfers it to the hips.
    • Handy compartments. They help distribute the weight evenly. They also make packs easier to organize.
    • Padded back. This keeps sharp edges from digging into the back.
    • Wheels. Wheels are nice if you or your child needs to carry a lot. But check with your child's school to make sure they're allowed. Remember that these packs will still have to be carried up stairs. And they can get messy when pulled through mud or snow.
  • Pack it safely.
    • Experts say children shouldn't carry more than 10% to 20% of their weight. Don't guess. Use your bathroom scale to weigh the loaded pack.
    • Pack the heaviest items closest to the back. Packs with compartments make this easier to do.
    • Talk to your child about using a locker to keep from carrying everything around all day.
  • Lift it safely.
    • Never bend down from the waist to pick up or set down a heavy pack.
    • Always squat down, bending at the knee and keeping your back straight.
    • If you need to, you can put one knee on the floor and the other knee in front of you while you lift the pack and swing it around to your back.
  • Wear it safely.
    • Pack wearers should use both shoulder straps. It may seem easier or more comfortable to sling the pack over just one shoulder, but that's a bad habit that can lead to back or shoulder pain.
    • Always use the waist belt, and tighten all the straps so the pack fits snugly.
    • Make sure your child stands up straight while wearing a backpack. If your child has to lean forward, the pack is too heavy.
    • If your child is having back pain or neck soreness, talk to your doctor. Encourage your children to tell you about any pain or soreness.

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Current as of: February 28, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.