They used to be for carrying books and lunches. When you add portable video games, gym clothes, and designer school supplies, though, backpacks are just too heavy for most kids.
Many backpacks that appeal to children are ill-designed for the task at hand—carrying a day's worth of school books, supplies, gym clothes, and kid treasures. They may look pleasing, but they may not have the proper padding and support to keep children from developing chronic problems with their backs.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), the extra weight in backpacks can lead to medical problems for kids, with muscle fatigue and strain at the top of the list. Backpacks can also injure a child if the weight of its contents adds up to more than 15% of his or her body weight.
In a study of children in middle school, researchers found that 37% reported back pain. A third of the students said that the pain limited them from doing some activities. Researchers also found that two factors were associated with less back pain: having school lockers available and using a lighter backpack.
Follow these tips to help lighten your child's load:
- Use both of the backpack's straps to hold the pack two inches above your waist. Make sure the straps are firmly tightened.
- Tighten the straps so the top is just below the base of the head. When packs are carried low on the back, near the buttocks, it weighs down the spine.
- Use correct lifting techniques. Bend with both knees when picking up a heavy back pack.
- Place the heaviest items close to your back.
- Neatly pack your backpack, and try to keep items in place.
- Try to make frequent trips to your locker between classes to replace books.
- A backpack's weight should not exceed 15% of your child's body weight, and even less for a young child.
- Select a backpack with padded, wide straps and a padded back.
- Use a hip strap for heavier weights.
- If your child's school allows them, consider purchasing a backpack with wheels or a pack with an internal frame.
- Consider purchasing a second set of books for home.
- Buy the smallest backpack possible.
- Clean out your young child's backpack once a week.
- Talk to your child's teacher about sending home only what is absolutely necessary.
Backpack safety. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at:
Updated July 2013. Accessed December 23, 2013.
Backpack safety. Nemours' KidsHealth website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/positive/learning/backpack.html. Updated August 2013. Accessed December 23, 2013.
Skaggs DL, Early SD, D’Ambra P, Tolo VT, Kay RM. Back pain and backpacks in school children.
J Pediatr Orthop.
UCSD researchers report results of children’s backpack study. University of California, San Diego Medical Center website. Available at:
http://health.ucsd.edu/news/2005/Pages/12_05_Macias.aspx. Accessed December 23, 2013.
Last reviewed December 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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