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Are Kids' Backpacks Hurting Them?

September 13, 2019

With schoolwork, homework, books, laptops and personal items, kids carry a lot of weight around on their backs. Barbara Minkowitz, MD, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon with Atlantic Medical Group Pediatric Orthopedics, offers tips on how to keep their backs strain-free.

My child looks like he/she is falling over! Is the backpack too heavy?

A loaded backpack pack should not weigh more than about 20 to 30% of your child’s body weight. If he weighs 80 pounds, his pack should weigh 16 to 24 pounds. In addition, it should be carried for short distances only. Children who suffer from back pain or have an injury need to go even lighter – no more than 10 pounds.

That’s too light! Can my child carry a heavier weight?

Some children are able to carry backpacks much heavier than this (up to 40 to 50 pounds, or 60 to 80% of their body weight) without a problem because they’re engaging their back muscles for short periods of time. It’s like a gym workout, but it’s all too easy to overdo it.

If my child has scoliosis, should she be carrying a backpack at all?

Children with scoliosis do not need special accommodations when carrying weight, as backpack use does not impact scoliosis curvature.

What else can parents do?

  • Parents can ask the school to provide a tablet in order to lessen the number of books that must be carried around. This is crucial for any child with a back injury or back pain. If that’s not an option, ask for a second set of books that your child can keep at home.
  • Encourage your child to use her locker during the day to store excess items.
  • A rolling backpack that can be wheeled around also is a great solution. 
  • Other things to try: Get a backpack with double shoulder straps that will help evenly distribute weight. Tighten the straps to keep the backpack from slipping.
  • Balance everything by placing heavier items in the back and lighter items in the front.