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Backpacks and Back Pain

Is Your Child's Backpack Too Heavy?

OK. Maybe you have more important things to worry about. It is not like carrying a heavy backpack with a lot of school books can cause serious illnesses, like scoliosis (at least there are no published reports linking heavy backpacks to scoliosis yet).

Still, carrying a heavy backpack can be a source of 'chronic, low-level trauma,'and can cause chronic shoulder, neck and back pain in your children.

Is carrying heavy backpack to school causing health problems for your kids? It might if they are carrying more than 10-20% of their body weight in their backpack, especially if they have to walk to school and/or they are carrying their backpack on only one shoulder.

Fortunately, the fashion of carrying a backpack on only one shoulder seems to be fading. On a recent visit to The University of Texas at Austin, I saw that most students had their backpacks strapped over both shoulders, instead of the single shoulder look that was 'fashionable' in my day.

Does your child complain of back pain?

Does he walk bent over sideways to try to adjust for the heavy load of a backpack?

Does he complain of numbness and tingling in his arms or hands?

Does he carry more than 10-20% of her body weight in his backpack?

Is your child's backpack too heavy?


pounds (optional)

If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, you might want to take some steps to minimize the chances that carrying a backpack will cause your child back pain or other health problems, including:

  • limiting the weight your child carries in a backpack to 10-20% of his body weight (use our backpack optimal weight calculator to figure out if your child's backpack is too heavy)

  • buying a backpack that has wide, padded shoulder straps and a waste belt

  • avoiding messenger type, single strap bags for your child to carry his school books and supplies

  • encouraging your child to wear his backpack over both shoulders

  • consider using a backpack with wheels

  • consider having a second set of text books available at home so that your child doesn't have to carry his books home regularly. Because of the expense, this usually only works if your child's school is doing it as a general policy, which some are, although they are doing it because they want to eliminate school lockers and not because of backpack safety.

  • getting your child evaluated by your Pediatrician. Although back pain is becoming more common in older adolescents, it is not as common in younger children and may be a sign of a more serious problem, such as spondylolysis, spondylolisthesis, disk herniation, diskitis, a sport's injury, or a tumor or infection. Don't assume that your child's back pain is caused by a heavy backpack, especially if the pain is very severe or persistent or if it lingers even after you lighten your child's backpack load.


Leffert RD - Orthop Clin North Am - 01-Apr-2000; 31(2): 331-45

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