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Dr. Tonia Cox, CHI Memorial Pediatric Diagnostic Associates

Q: I've noticed my children struggling to pick up their backpacks and continually slumping while carrying them. How do I know if a backpack is too heavy, and what can I do about it?

A: As children progress through school, their backpack weight seems to increase drastically. The homework loads become larger and the textbooks heavier. However, it is important to note that the weight of the backpack can cause unnecessary strain on your child's muscles.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that your child's backpack weigh no more than 10-20% of your child's body weight. The size of the backpack also matters. It is recommended that the backpack not be wider than your child's torso or hang more than 4 inches below the waist. Finding a lightweight backpack that fits your child correctly is important.

To help maintain a healthy weight, go through the backpack with your child regularly and remove items that are unnecessary or out-of-date. A lot of schools are transitioning to electronic copies of textbooks, but until those become more widespread, consider keeping copies of textbooks at home to avoid your child having to carry loads back and forth from school.

Additionally, encourage your child to use both straps. Slinging the backpack over one shoulder fails to distribute the weight of the pack equally and can cause more strain on the lower back. Also, remember to tighten the straps so they fit the child's back. This helps avoid muscle pain and posture problems.

Your child will most likely be carrying a backpack for several years, so it's important to make sure you follow the safety measures to ensure your child's neck, back and shoulder don't suffer undue strain.

— Tonia Cox, M.D., CHI Memorial Pediatric Diagnostic Associates; member, Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society

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