Is Your Child’s Backpack Too Heavy?


Lower back pain is the second most common reason why people visit doctors. In the United States, as many as 80 percent of adults will experience lower back pain at some point in their lives, with lower back pain being the leading cause of disability in Americans under 45 years old.

And according to the American Chiropractic Association, lower back pain is increasingly common in kids nowadays; children are experiencing it earlier in life, with more than half experiencing one or more episodes of lower back pain by the time they reach their teenage years.

Some reasons for that are that many modern children are sitting in front of computers or playing video games for hours on end. If the posture is incorrect, both of these largely sedentary activities can place unnatural stress on the spinal column, on the muscles and tendons that surround it, or on the nerve fibers that it encases.

But there is another major contributor to childhood back pain problems that may be overlooked, and which can be easily avoided — a backpack that’s too heavy or is carried improperly.

Carrying a backpack that weighs too much, or carrying it the wrong way (for instance, over one shoulder) can cause a child to develop bad posture, or it could cause a distortion of the spinal column that might result in muscle pain; back, neck, or arm pain; headaches; or even nerve damage, a more serious condition. Studies have shown that carrying a heavy backpack over one shoulder might also increase the permanent curvature of the spine (scoliosis).

As far as the weight of a backpack, experts recommend that a child not carry any more than 10 to 15 percent of the child’s body weight. Put the backpack on a scale, if you need to, to insure that it  does not exceed 15 percent of your child’s weight.

Some public school systems in the U.S. are addressing the problem of heavy backpacks by handing out extra copies of textbooks to students, to eliminate the need for students to carry those books between home and school. One professor of physical therapy has suggested that school districts that can’t afford to buy more textbooks issue texts on CD-ROM or put them online.

Other than checking backpack for proper weight, here are some additional practical suggestions for you as a parent, to help prevent your child from developing back problems:

  • Buy a backpack made with lightweight materials, and having two wide, adjustable, padded shoulder straps and a padded back. Backpack should also have a waistband.
  • Adjust shoulder straps and waistband, so that backpack fits close to the body.
  • If you prefer, buy a backpack with wheels that your child will roll on the ground nearly all the time (though backpack should still not be too heavy, as pulling a heavy object will also place undue physical stress on the back).
  • Whether backpack is carried on the shoulders, or it has wheels and is rolled on the ground, teach your child to lift it carefully, using arm and leg strength to raise it, instead of using the back to raise it.
  • Frequent stretching exercises are always a good idea, to help strengthen back muscles overall and keep the spinal column more flexible.

A few preventive measures now will help save your young scholar’s back later. Keep in mind that sometimes, back pain is not experienced right after the back has been injured, but can occur later and can be cumulative.