Pediatric Orthopedics
Hasbro Children's Hospital

Backpack safety

Backpacks can serve many purposes for your child. A backpack is a useful tool for transporting all of your child's educational gear to and from school, it can act as a mode of expression (especially for children who wear uniforms to school) and can double as an overnight or sports bags. Like many useful tools, there are safety precautions to consider.

Children wearing backpacks

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Many children do not wear their backpacks properly, either because they don't realize it or they worry about being "uncool." The most common misuses include overloading, hanging the bag over one shoulder and not adjusting the straps properly. The following article will explain the risks of improper backpack use and how to practice safe wear.

Problem: Overloading

Overloading backpacks with too much weight can cause injury to your child's neck, back and shoulders. When a child places too much weight in their backpack, it often forces them to arch their back or hunch over in order to compensate. This can cause your child's spine to constrict unnaturally, resulting in pain. Girls or smaller children are at a greater risk for injury because they tend to have less body weight, but still try to carry the load size of older or larger children. Improper backpack use can also lead to poor posture.

Overloaded backpacks are just as dangerous to other children as they are to the child wearing it. Your child may not realize it, but he or she may be hitting others when they turn or pass by. When a child throws their bag to the ground, it frequently may land on another child's foot. An overloaded backpack is that much more weight being whipped at or landing on an unsuspecting child, increasing the likelihood of injury.


Your child should not be carrying more than 10 to 15 percent of their body weight on their backs - meaning a child who weighs 60 pounds should not exceed 6 to 9 pounds of weight. Make sure your child is only bringing home the books and tools they need for homework and studying. If you find he or she is bringing significantly more home every Friday, ensure that they are not procrastinating and leaving too much for the weekend. Eliminate excess weight in your child's backpack by limiting extras such as large pencil boxes or binders, unneeded electronics or video games. Encourage your child to go back to their locker or desk between classes to drop off items they no longer need.

Problem: Slinging the bag over one shoulder

School children slinging their backpacks over one shoulder is an epidemic. For whatever reason, it has been deemed the most socially acceptable method of wear. Unfortunately, backpacks were not meant to be worn like this and can cause strain to your child's body. When a backpack is put over one shoulder, it can cause a lack of balance, forcing your child to lean to one side to offset the weight on the other. This can cause upper and lower back pain as well as strain your child's neck and shoulders. It may also affect your child's sense of balance, making him or her more likely to trip.


Do your best to convince your child to wear their backpack properly with the straps over both shoulders. This will lead to an even distribution of weight and will not overstress one area. Using the waist belt in addition to the shoulder straps will further help to maintain weight balance.

Problem: Poorly adjusted, too tight or narrow straps

Wearing backpack straps too tight can cut into the shoulders and interfere with circulation. Narrow straps can aggravate this problem as well as provide inadequate backpack support. These issues may lead to a child feeling numb or weak in the arms and hands.


When purchasing a backpack for your child, make sure to buy one with thick, padded straps for comfort and support. Also, adjust the straps so they are not too tight, but snug.

When shopping for a backpack, look for a lightweight material, with a padded back and wide, padded shoulder straps. It should have a waist belt and numerous compartments in order to distribute weight more evenly.