Back issues for kids? Blame the backpack

Teenage student carrying backpack

If you have a child in middle school or high school, you’ve likely seen their overloaded backpack. There’s a growing concern that kids are developing back, neck and shoulder pain and injury because of heavy backpacks.

  • One in four students report having back pain for 15 days or more during the school year.
  • In 2013, there were 5,415 backpack-related injuries treated at U.S. emergency rooms
  • 60% of students between ages 12 and 17 are carrying backpacks that weigh 10% (or more) of their body weight.

A loaded backpack should never weigh more than 10% of the child’s bodyweight (15% at absolute max). So a 100-pound child’s backpack shouldn’t weigh more than 10 pounds. A study in California showed that some textbooks weigh nearly five pounds each!

How to choose and wear a backpack safely

There are many ways to reduce back pain associated with backpacks that are too heavy. Here are some suggestions for you and your child to consider:

  • Never carry more than 10% of body weight.
  • Place the heaviest items close to the back.
  • Always use both straps.
  • Wider and more padded straps are better.
  • Don’t use leather straps as they add extra weight.
  • Keep the backpack above the hollow of the back.
  • Pick the smallest backpack that will work so it doesn’t get overloaded.
  • Use digital textbooks when possible.
  • Pack only what’s necessary.

As the school year continues, be sure to monitor your child’s backpack load. Listen for complaints about back, shoulder and neck pain. Watch to see if your child is struggling to get the backpack on or off or has to lean forward to carry the pack. These are signs that your child’s backpack is too heavy.