School Backpack Safety

As “Back to School” shopping begins, it’s important to do your homework to keep your child free from backpack related injuries.

Over 5 thousand emergency room visits a year by kids 18 and under are reportedly due to school backpack related injuries.  A major problem – kids carrying heavy loads in their school bags! Studies found more than half the students surveyed were carrying loads that exceeded the maximum safe weight for kids.  Finding the right sized school bag and teaching your child how to properly wear a backpack is just as important as lightening the load they carry to and from school each day.


A heavy backpack, or one worn incorrectly, can leave your child at risk for injuries like neck, back and shoulder pain. A school bag that is loaded up can significantly load the spine and surrounding joints. Wearing it improperly such as over one shoulder or sagging too low can place added stress on the vertebrae, discs, nerves, and muscles. It can also foster bad posture.


If that school backpack is creating some issues, your child may start to complain of different symptoms. They include:

• Pain while wearing the backpack
• Headaches
• Shoulder pain
• Low back or neck pain
• Tingling in arms or legs
• Red marks on your child’s shoulder where the straps are worn
• Stooped posture

backpack safety thrive physical therapy soho nycTIPS FOR WEARING A SCHOOL BACKPACK

• LIGHTEN THE LOAD!  Your child’s backpack should not exceed more than 10 – 15% of your child’s weight (ex: If your child weighs 100 lbs. the backpack should be 10-15 lbs.)
• Wear both shoulder straps that should be padded for comfort
• Waist belts can help distribute and support the load
• The size of the backpack should match the size of the child
• Backpacks should sit near your shoulders NOT above them
• Backpacks should sit in the contour of your low back
(Think of your belly button line and it should not fall more than 2- 4 inches below that level)
• Choose a bag that has multiple compartments. Place heavier items closer to body and lighter ones away. Also keep sharp objects in compartments away from the body
• Avoid placing child’s name on the outside of the bag
• Place a reflector on bag to allow cars to see your child at night


To help lighten the load on your kids, speak with teachers to see if there are electronic versions of textbooks available or if you can purchase two textbooks – one to keep at home and the other to keep in the classroom. Some teachers send home lighter pamphlets to complete throughout the week which help avoid students having to lug a heavy book back and forth.

If you think your child is experiencing some discomfort due to a backpack – speak with your physician or physical therapist who can evaluate and determine if that is causing your child’s symptoms.  A physical therapist can also design a strengthening and flexibility program for students to help them tone up for toting those backpacks this semester.

Image above shows Thrive PT Amy McGorry demonstrating the proper way to wear a backpack. Image courtesy of Home & Family on the Hallmark Channel.

AmyMcGorry Physical TherapistAmy McGorry, PT, DPT MTC, is a senior staff physical therapist at Thrive PT in NoHo New York. She received her Bachelor’s of Science in physical therapy from SUNY Stony Brook in 1991 and earned her doctoral degree in physical therapy from the University of St. Augustine in 2011. In 2005 Amy, completed an advanced certification in Orthopedic Manual Joint Manipulation from the University of St. Augustine. In addition to her clinical skills, Dr. McGorry is a freelance news reporter for Channel 12 and contributes medical articles, short videos and slideshows to health and wellness websites.