School Backpacks Could Be Harming Your Child

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The back-to-school shopping list seems to be getting longer every year – and this year is no different.

After you pack everything, including the gluten-free paint (can’t we just teach our kids not to eat paint?), your child’s backpack is heavier than your Sunday purse.

And although your son tells you every day that he’s the Incredible Hulk – as he proceeds to lift your ottoman off the floor – you know it can’t be good for him to lug around a backpack that weighs like a ton of bricks all day. And you’re right!

Turns out your child’s backpack being too heavy it is a serious safety concern.

According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, it is estimated an average of 7,500 kids under 19 were sent to the emergency room for backpack-related injuries between 2017 and 2019.

And these statistics do not include the injured kids who were treated at a chiropractor or with home care.

Dr. Rahul Shah, a board-certified spine and neck surgeon explains to Scary Mommy how backpacks cause more damage than we thought:

“A backpack that fits poorly, is too heavy, worn too often or incorrectly, can lead to our children having problems with posture, pain in their necks, arms, and back.”

How often do we see our kids throw their backpack over one shoulder because they’re in a rush, or stuff every textbook they’ll need because they don’t want to run back to their locker?

These seemingly harmless habits could have harsh repercussions.

Dr. Shah continues:

“With a too-heavy backpack, the back will begin to compensate for the extra weight and create stress on their spinal column, which can lead to a cascade of effects for the back from temporary backache to a more serious injury.”

Our children should not have to worry about backaches until they’re adults – and sore from carrying a baby on their hip all day!

The school-age years are the formative years of a child physically and mentally.

All the changes that the body is going through throughout the school year can be exaggerated by the stress of the heavy backpack.

Dr. Shah told Scary Mommy:

“As children grow, their center of gravity can change within their bodies, and that’s without backpacks.”

“As all of these loads and pivot points change, children are forced to use their backs to counterbalance these loads. Therefore, the hinges (the areas where the bones move in the back) are placed at further risk for injury with so much extra load.”

Hopefully, we don’t have too much to worry about with our younger children – crayons and construction paper projects aren’t usually too heavy (unless your son uses glue, like mine).

In the older grades, however, the educational demands are higher, requiring more textbooks and more notebooks, making the load something that could be submitted into a Strong Man competition.

So how do we keep our kids safe as they pursue their academic careers?

Protect your child’s spinal health by providing a supportive backpack and demonstrating to them how to properly wear it.

And as Karen Jacobs, the national spokesperson for the American Occupational Therapy Association, told Scary Mommy, backpacks should never exceed 10% of the child’s body weight.

You can physically put their full backpack on the scale and tell if it is in the appropriate weight range.

Checking in with your child throughout the year is crucial as well. Be on the lookout if your child leans forward when they walk while wearing their backpack. And take it seriously if they report any back pain.

Remind your child to only carry the necessary materials and speak to their teacher if they’re having trouble keeping up with the load.

We must protect our children’s bodies while we build their minds – thankfully it’s as easy as learning to pack light – a skill that will benefit them for life.