Health & Happiness: School backpack safety concerns

By Dr. Bryen Bell

It’s back-to-school season, and one of the essential items for a returning student is a backpack. Nowadays, very few schools allow students to leave their school supplies in a desk or locker. Children are expected to carry what feels like 40-pounds of paper, pencils, books, and various supplies from class to class or home. Unfortunately, lugging such excessive weight on a daily basis might have a detrimental effect on your child’s growing body.

Is a School Backpack Dangerous for Your Child?

The National Safety Council reports that a backpack that is too heavy can cause physical discomforts such as chronic back or shoulder pain and poor posture. Children who suffer from scoliosis often experience more severe symptoms from carrying the added weight. In recent years, the potential physical problems have grabbed the attention of various state legislation, such as in California, which has pushed the implementation of laws requiring schools to lighten the backpack weight that a child is expected to carry.

How Much Weight is Too Much for a Child’s Backpack?

Unfortunately, backpack weight requirements are rare in most school districts across the nation. Many schools require children to carry as much as a quarter of their body weight in school backpacks. Shouldering such a heavy load every day could damage a child’s growing frame. The American Chiropractic Association advises that a pack should weigh no more than 5 to 10 percent of a child’s body weight.

Choosing a Back-to-School Backpack

As a concerned parent, you are probably wondering what you can do to promote school backpack safety for your child.

Here a few tips on choosing a backpack:

  • Space: A big bag with lots of compartments might seem like a good idea, but in reality, it just means your child will be able to stuff even more items into the space which increases the weight.
  • Design: A pack with an ergonomic design is ideal.
  • Size: Any backpack you buy should never be wider or longer than your child’s torso. When adjusting the backpack straps make sure that the bottom of the pack does not hang more than 4 inches below the child’s waist.
  • Straps: The pack must have padded straps and, ideally, a padded back.
  • Compression Straps: Compression straps on each side of the pack are an added bonus that help stabilize the bag’s contents.

Scoliosis and Backpack Safety Concerns

Scoliosis is a sideways curvature of a child’s spine that occurs during a growth spurt. Unfortunately, medical experts do not know what exactly causes the curvature to take place. In some cases, it may have a hereditary link. If your child has been diagnosed with even mild scoliosis then carrying a massive backpack only adds to the compression of the child’s spine.

Before your child starts the new school year it is recommended that you take your little one in for a community service scoliosis check at True Potential Chiropractic Office, your child’s pediatrician, or at the local Department of Health office.

Dr. Bryen A. Bell is a Board-Certified Chiropractic Physician with 20 years of professional experience. He practices with his wife and operates True Potential Chiropractic, a professionally endorsed, award-winning family care facility. Questions regarding any information in this article please contact 503-574-4872. Or visit them online at