School is back in session, and millions of children are toting backpacks full of books and supplies. But reading, writing and arithmetic may not be the only things putting a strain on your child. So might his or her backpack.

John Simmons, M.D., FAAFP

Each year, thousands of people are treated in medical facilities for backpack-related injuries. While backpacks keep school items organized and are designed to distribute weight properly, incorrect use can be harmful for children and teenagers. Muscles and joints can be injured, resulting in severe back, neck and shoulder pain.

“Your child may wear a backpack as much as 30 minutes a day,” says John Simmons, M.D., FAAFP, Texas A&M Physician and assistant professor of family and community medicine at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine. “Just like with a piece of sports equipment, it’s important the child wears the backpack correctly. Always use both shoulder straps to balance the weight and align the spine.”

Dr. Simmons and the American Academy of Pediatrics have tips for choosing and using backpacks.

When purchasing a backpack, look for wide padded shoulder straps, along with a padded back and waist strap. The backpack itself should be light and have multiple compartments to distribute weight more evenly. Tighten the shoulder straps snugly against the body to encourage good posture, and use your legs rather than your back to lift.

“Above all, don’t overstuff a backpack with heavy books,” Dr. Simmons says. “A good rule of thumb is to always keep the weight of the backpack at a number less than 15 percent of your child’s weight.”

If you have questions or your child experiences pain or discomfort from a backpack, consult your physician.

— Marketing & Communications