Overloaded backpack

Maybe you’ve noticed your child struggling to put on their backpack, or bending forward while carrying it, or complaining of tingling or numbness.  It’s common today to see children carrying as much as a quarter of their body weight.

If you’re concerned about the effects that extra weight might have on your child’s still growing body…your instincts are correct.

Backpack safety bookmark


Backpacks that are too heavy can cause kids lots of health problems.

  • Shoulders: Shoulders aren’t made to hang things on. When a heavy load is put on kids’ shoulders, joints get tight, muscles tighten, it alters bio-mechanics and creates potential strain.
  • Hips: Hips can become sore if a child is bending forward to compensate for the backward pull of their backpack.
  • Neck and upper back: Heavy backpacks create a forward trunk lean (rounding of upper back), which causes a forward head posture with extended neck, creating neck and shoulder pain.
  • Lower back: A change in posture by leaning forward to compensate for the weight of the backpack can result in lower and mid back pain and muscle tightness.
  • Knees: Knee pain is possible because of change in walking pattern and body posture due to an overweight backpack.

How to help prevent injury

  • The backpack should weigh no more than 10 percent of a child’s weight.
  • Make sure your child uses both straps when carrying the backpack.
  • Select the right size: never wider or longer than your child’s torso and never hanging more than 4 inches below the waist
  • Hip and chest belts help transfer some of the weight to the hips and torso.
  • Select a backpack with two wide, padded shoulder straps and a padded back.
  • Multiple compartments will make it easier to evenly distribute the weight of the items inside. The heaviest items should be packed low and toward the center of the bag.
  • Help your child determine what is absolutely necessary to carry. If it’s not essential, leave it at home. Encourage your kids to bring home only the books needed for homework or studying each night; and use their locker instead of carrying the entire day’s worth of books home.

Put your child’s backpack to the test

Use the bathroom scale to check that a pack isn’t over 10 percent of your child’s body weight. For example, the backpack of a child who weighs 80 pounds should not weigh more than 8 pounds.

What you can do if your child is injured

Studies have found that 64 percent of children ages 11 to 15 years have back pain related to heavy backpacks. And 85 percent of college students self-report pain and discomfort associated with backpack use.

If your child has back pain or numbness or weakness in the arms or legs, talk to your doctor or consult with occupational therapist Jenna Karas.