Don’t Injure Back With Backpacks

Jeanette A. Tucker, Claesgens, Mark A.  |  7/20/2007 2:10:59 AM

2007 Back-to-School News (Distributed 07/12/07)

Students of all ages use backpacks to make their lives easier by organizing and carrying books and school supplies. Colors, styles and fabric selections are among the many difficult decisions to make when purchasing a backpack.

It is important to purchase a backpack that fits your body correctly to prevent back problems, according to LSU AgCenter family economics specialist Dr. Jeanette Tucker. In 2004, about 7,600 hospital treated injuries in the United States were associated with backpacks, and the most vulnerable age group was 9- to 16-year-olds. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you consider the following criteria before purchasing a backpack:

– Select a lightweight backpack that doesn’t add a lot of weight to your load. For example, although leather backpacks may look cool, they weigh more than traditional canvas backpacks.

– Select a backpack with two wide, padded shoulder straps. Straps that are too narrow can dig into the shoulders.

– Select a backpack that has a padded back, which provides increased comfort and protects the wearer from being poked by sharp edges (such as pencils, rulers, notebooks, etc.) inside the backpack.

– Select a backpack that has a waist belt which helps distribute the weight more evenly across the body.

– Select a backpack that has multiple compartments, which also helps distribute weight more evenly.

Tucker lists additional features to look for:

– Compression straps on the sides to tighten a partially filled backpack.

– Multiple pockets, including small ones for a calculator, cell phone or keys; and a concealed inside pocket for cash.

– Dual zippers on the main compartment.

– Waterproof, colorfast material.

– Reflective trim to improve visibility.

Although most backpacks come with two shoulders traps, students don’t necessarily use both of them. Many wear their backpacks over just one shoulder; which can lead to problems. This makes the student lean to one side to offset the extra weight and possibly develop lower and upper back pain and strain on shoulders and neck.

Wearing the backpack incorrectly can also lead to poor posture. So, make sure to wear the backpack using both straps, Tucker advises. She says it’s also a good idea to tighten the straps enough for the backpack to fit close to the body, and it should sit 2 inches above the waist.

Girls and younger children may be especially at risk for backpack-related injuries because they are smaller and may carry loads that are heavier in proportion to their body weight. Doctors recommend that people – especially children – carry backpacks that are no more than 10-15 percent of their body weight. For example, if a child weights 80 pounds, 15 percent of his or her body weight is 12 pounds. So, for an 80-pound child, the backpack and its contents should not weigh more than 12 pounds. But remember, lighter is always better, according to Tucker.

Another option to consider is a backpack on wheels. These types of backpacks, however, may be less practical than traditional backpacks because they are difficult to pull upstairs. If you’re thinking about purchasing a rolling backpack, contact your school first to make sure this kind is allowed. Many schools don’t allow rolling backpacks because they pose a tripping hazard in the hallways.

It is also important to know how to lift and position a backpack. Improper lifting can cause damage. Tucker lists these simple steps to safely lift your backpack:

1. Face the backpack before you lift it.

2. Bend at the knees.

3. Using both hands, check the weight of the backpack.

4. Lift with your legs, not your back.

5. Carefully put one shoulder strap on at a time.

For related family economics and consumer topics, click on the Family and Home link on the LSU AgCenter homepage at For local information and educational programs, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.


On the Internet: LSU AgCenter:
Contact: Jeanette Tucker (225) 578-5398 or
Editor: Mark Claesgens (225) 578-2939 or

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