How to Know When Your Child's Backpack Is Too Heavy

Elementary school students wearing backpacks, walking down a corridor

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When it comes to backpacks, your child's main concern is probably which accessories to add, or how much homework they have. As a parent, however, you may want to consider how much weight they are lugging around on a daily basis.

If your child is carrying more than 10% to 20% of their body weight in their backpack, they may be at risk for chronic back pain, and even scoliosis, especially if they have to walk to school or they are carrying their backpack on only one shoulder.

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.

Fortunately, the fashion trend of carrying a backpack on only one shoulder seems to have faded.

How to Tell If Your Child's Backpack Is Too Heavy

Here are some questions to help determine whether your child is carrying too much weight in a backpack:

  • Does your child complain of back pain?
  • Does she 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 she carry more than 10 to 20% of her body weight in his backpack?

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 to 20% of his body weight
  • Buying a backpack that has wide, padded shoulder straps and a waist belt
  • Avoiding messenger type, single strap bags for your child to carry his school books and supplies
  • Encouraging your child to wear her backpack over both shoulders
  • Consider using a backpack with wheels
  • Consider having a second set of textbooks 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.
  • 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.
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  1. Perrone M, Orr R, Hing W, Milne N, Pope R. The Impact of Backpack Loads on School Children: A Critical Narrative ReviewInt J Environ Res Public Health. 2018;15(11). doi:10.3390/ijerph15112529