All those new binders. All those new school books. Maybe even a library book ... or two. Oh, can't forget pencil pouches! For items that can be found in your child's backpack, the list goes on. However, did you know that not only does the weight of her backpack, but the position, too, can cause harm to her growing back? It's easy to forget how important it is to know backpack safety when there's so much to bring home each day.

The Way You Carry a Backpack Makes a Difference

While shoulder bags and satchels are popular right now with all the trendy styles, they're no good for your school child. "Carrying a heavy bag on one shoulder for a long period of time can alter your natural gait, interfering with the way your arms move while walking thus altering your balance," says Michael McCutchen, M.D., primary care physician at Saint Thomas Medical Partners in Mt. Juliet. He advises all students to use backpacks because they provide even distribution of weight across the body and to use BOTH straps. "Backpack straps should always be worn across both shoulders to prevent gait imbalance," says McCutchen. Tighten the straps so that the backpack fits close to the body, and watch for where it hangs. "The bag should not be worn too high or too low and should. It should rest evenly in the middle of the back to prevent pulling the spine and shoulder blades away from their natural posture," adds McCutchen. He says that according to Backpack Safety America, the height of the back pack should be no more than three quarters of the length between the child's shoulder blades and waist. Carrying a backpack should be comfortable, too. Narrow shoulder straps combined with a heavy load can strain the shoulders and pinch nerves around the shoulder and neck area cautions McCutchen. Prevent nerve compression and straining with the use of a backpack with padded shoulder straps. And, don't overload it. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says, "The backpack should never weigh more than 10 to 20 percent of your child's body weight." "Observe how your child walks while wearing the backpack," says McCutchen. "If he appears to be straining or hunched over, the load is likely too heavy."

AAP's Backpack Safety Tips

  • Comfort. Choose a backpack with wide, padded shoulder straps and a padded back.
  • Pack light. Use all of the compartments to organize your child's belongings. Pack heavier items closest to the center of the back. Remove unneeded items weekly.
  • Use both shoulder straps. Slinging a backpack over one shoulder can strain muscles.
  • Position. Adjust the straps so the bottom of the backpack sits at your child's waist.
  • Consider a rolling backpack. If it's allowed at your school, this type of backpack may be a good choice for students with a heavy load. However, your child may need to carry it up any stairs, they may be difficult to roll in snow and they may not fit in some lockers.