Be sure your child isn't carrying too heavy a load to school

By Suzanne Cassidy 7:06am, August 21, 2014 - Updated 7:21am, August 21, 2014
(Richard Hertzler, Photographer)
Along with lunch packing and early morning scavenger hunts for flash drives and permission slips, here's something I dread this time of year: the sight of my children weighed down by insanely heavy backpacks.

So many textbooks now are online, one would think that backpacks would be lighter than ever. But they're not.

I'm reliably informed that wheeled backpacks are out of the question for my high schoolers. (A colleague's offer of her BeDazzler isn't going to make a wheeled backpack any cooler).

I'd suggest that parents everywhere insist on buying their kids wheeled backpacks, making them too ubiquitous to be deemed tragically uncool, but I know this isn't realistic.

Also, the backpacks I bought my kids several years ago, and that they still use, don't have wheels, so it would be hypocritical.

And wheeled backpacks, some parents point out, have their own drawbacks.

"We tried the wheel kind and it trips kids behind the person dragging it," says Amy Burk, who will have a first-grader and a sixth-grader in school this year. "They are difficult for young kids to get up the steps, hard to get up on the bus."

So what to do?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, "improperly used backpacks may injure muscles and joints. This can lead to severe back, neck and shoulder pain, as well as posture problems."

There are ways to make those heavy backpacks less of a strain on tender muscles and joints. Here's how it's done.

According to the website of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, a backpack should have two wide, padded shoulder straps, a padded back and a waist strap.

Kids' backpacks should weigh no more than 10 to 15 percent of their body weight.

And they should pack the heaviest items low in the backpack and towards the center, the AAOS says.

The American Physical Therapy Association suggests that you look for backpacks that have compression straps on the side or bottom "that, when tightened, compress the contents of the backpack and stabilize" them.

And the backpack should fit the child, the APTA says: "The bottom of the pack should rest in the contour of the lower back. The pack should 'sit' evenly in the middle of the back, not sag down toward the buttocks."

I asked Tim Kauffman of Kauffman Physical Therapy in Lancaster, PA (full disclosure: that's where I go for PT) for additional tips.

He says it's "very, very important that the backpack straps be tightened so the backpack is resting comfortably on the back."

But if the backpack straps are too tight, and the backpack is overloaded, the nerves in your child's neck may be pinched, he says.

The backpack, he says, "should be worn on both shoulders, not just one."

And kids should use the backpack's waist strap. (The dorkiness factor can be mitigated by tucking the waist strap under a shirt.)

Using the waist strap will distribute the backpack's weight to the hips, "which are designed for weight-bearing," Kauffman notes. "The upper back and shoulders are not as designed for wear-bearing, especially in kids."

He also suggests that parents and kids go through backpacks weekly, to throw away extraneous stuff.

Amy Burk says the real culprit that's weighing kids down is the 3-inch binder that many schools want older students to use.

"They don't even fit in a normal backpack," she says.

"Hate the 3-inch binder,ā€¯ agrees parent Shelby Witmer. "They always break, too."

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Suzanne Cassidy is a staff writer for

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