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Back-to-school backpack guide

Paoli Hospital August 13, 2014 General Wellness

With the beginning of a new school year comes new baggage: new textbooks, notebooks, musical instruments, sports uniforms and equipment and more. While it’s exciting to get back into extracurricular activities, the beginning of the school year is also a good time to remember that carrying around all that extra weight can put your child at risk for injury.

“Carrying around too many books or too much equipment can put the muscles in your back, neck and shoulders at risk for strain or injury,” says Eric Zabat, MD, sports medicine physician at Paoli Hospital, Main Line Health. “For this reason, it is important to ensure that your child has a backpack that fits them and that they’re carrying the weight appropriately and safely.”

Follow these tips from Dr. Zabat to lighten your children’s load this school year and decrease the chance of injury as a result of heavy equipment.

Watch your weight

Some backpacks and equipment simply are too heavy for a child’s back to support. To make sure that your child isn’t carrying too much, try to limit the weight of their backpack to no more than 10 to 15 percent of their body weight. So, for example, if your child weighs 100 pounds, the weight they’re carrying on their back should be no more than 10 pounds.

Make sure the weight on your back is easily distributed, as well. Load the heaviest items closest to your child’s back and arrange materials so that they’re secured and won’t be sliding around all day.


In the back-and-forth from school and extracurricular activities, it can be easy to accumulate extra books or other items without realizing it. At the end of every night or week, go through bags and backpacks to make sure there’s no extra or unnecessary weight. If you only need a book one day per week, don’t carry it around with you every day.

Find the perfect fit

Like clothing and shoes, backpacks come in different sizes for different ages, and come in a variety of different colors and designs. Find the right fit for your child by trying it on in store.

Whichever one you choose should have well-padded shoulder straps and fit snugly on your child’s back. The bottom of the pack should rest in the curve of the lower back and should never go more than four inches below the waistline. If a bag hangs too loosely, it can strain the back, neck, and shoulder muscles.

Some schools allow wheeled backpacks, which alleviate the back pain associated with carrying pounds of books. If your school allows it and your child is dealing with back pain or carrying a heavy load regularly, it may be a better option than traditional bags.

Double up

If fitting books and equipment into one bag still exceeds the percentage weight requirement, bring another bag to carry, as well. A small tote bag, instrument case or other carrier will allow your child to carry everything they need without the added stress on their body.

If you or your child is suffering from back pain or posture problems as a result of improper backpack use, make an appointment to speak with your physician or a physical therapist about alleviating pain or muscle problems.