Heavy backpacks can trigger back pain
Experts recommend a backpack weigh less than 15% of a child's body weight.
August 8th, 2012
11:26 AM ET

Heavy backpacks can trigger back pain

It’s back-to-school time, and children nationwide will be lugging books to and from classes, many of them wearing backpacks.

But beware: Those heavy bags draped over your child’s shoulders could be the source of acute or even chronic back pain, says Dr. David Marshall, Medical Director for Children’s Health Care of Atlanta Sports Medicine Program.

“It’s estimated about 40 million kids are going to be carrying backpacks, and we’re starting to see more and more back pain complaints from the doctors in the sports medicine program,” states Marshall.

Between 2010 and 2011, backpack injuries in kids aged 5 to 18 increased 6.5%, from 12,924 to 13,766, according the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Injuries from backpacks Marshall sees include chronic back pain and imbalance, such as tripping and falling. If a child has a spine issue such as scoliosis, improper backpack technique could make the pain worse.

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the weight of a backpack should be less than 10-15% of a child’s body weight. A child weighing 100 pounds should carry a backpack that weighs less than 15 pounds.

Help your kids prevent backpack pain

However, “The dilemma is, even though we recommend that backpacks should weigh less than 15% of the kids' total body weight, sometimes that’s not practical, because they may have a lot of homework or need to study for a test,”  says Marshall.

Avoid school strain - unstuff that backpack

If heavy books have to be carried, he suggests placing them closest to the child’s back. Another option - if the school allows it - is using a rolling book bag.  Better yet, consider having two sets of books – one at home and one at school.

With increasing technology, Marshall says, “one of the solutions is to put some of the text books online … rather than carrying home a 700-page history textbook to read 10 pages.”

The material used to make the backpack also matters.  Marshall points out that while leather backpacks may look nice, they add extra weight before it’s even filled. So he suggests a light-weight nylon bag.

Also look for backpacks with wider straps, says Marshall. - “Narrower straps can dig into muscles [and] they might even pinch a nerve.”

Some backpacks come with abdominal straps. Marshall recommends using them because they help redistribute the load evenly across the back.

soundoff (23 Responses)
  1. charlottewilsonphotography

    Very timely post. I know that my daughter's backpack was very heavy even when she was in grade school. It only got worse as she progressed to high school and college. While it is a nice idea to have 2 sets of books, it is impractical for most because of high cost of text books.
    The best solution as I see it, is to have more online resources so that students would be spared the heavy load of a backpack.

    Charlotte Wilson

    August 8, 2012 at 12:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. surgeonsinmexico

    Hi, I was simply checking out this blog and I really admire the premise of the article and this is really informative. I will for sure refer my friends the same. Thanks

    August 12, 2012 at 10:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Dr. J. Malay

    Very useful and insightful information. I love that proper backpack technique is encouraged. It is important for the weight to be distributed properly. Wearing the backpack on one shoulder, which is very common, should be avoided. http://dallasnaturaldoctor.com

    August 15, 2012 at 09:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dr. J. Malay

      Dr J Malay

      August 21, 2012 at 09:14 | Report abuse |
  4. ashim

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    August 15, 2012 at 11:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Mark Viau

    See our new invention for this problem

    August 19, 2012 at 11:58 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Amanda

      I couldn't agree more with kidsartbynataline. I doubt that kids these days carry that much stuff because of technology but they do sitt on their butts a lot. I reccommend 3 Essential stretching exercises to combat back pain for parents and children alike so that they wont have any back problems in the future.

      January 10, 2013 at 01:36 | Report abuse |
  6. Mark Viau

    Order your SpinePal from markviau@yahoo.com

    August 19, 2012 at 12:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Dr. John Petraglia

    It's important to make sure kids have the proper backpacks. If they start with pain at a young age, it will only get worse as they grow up. At johnfpetraglia.authorsxpress.com, there are stories of people who have started with a basic pain that escalated to a horrible and life-controlling pain.

    August 24, 2012 at 16:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. HaleyS

    I am a high school student and for my health exam, our assignment is to answer a health question we have. My question is; would my back pain be reduced if I carry my books in a way other than on my back? I have found some parts of this article very interesting especially the tips for a good backpack towards the end. Through my research, I have come to a conclusion that the backpack is the best way to carry books opposed to a messenger bag, carrying books in hands, etc.

    November 19, 2012 at 17:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. kidsartbynatalie

    I think more than just carrying heavy backpacks, which students have done for years, the problem comes from so much SITTING. Think about it: Kids are going to school, sitting down in the car on the way there, sitting throughout their classes, sitting after school to do homework, sitting to play videogames, eat dinner, watch tv, get on the computer...
    It's no wonder their backs hurt! The same can be said of adults with our desk jobs.
    The number one thing I've personally done to combat back pain is get a standing/adjustable height desk. Personally, I use a NextDesk at work and use a kind of "DIY" contraption for home. But I don't sit very much anymore, and I feel so much better! A lot of schools are switching to standing too. Check out the benefits: http://www.nextdesks.com/benefits

    Thanks for the post!

    December 12, 2012 at 10:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Tonya Bonvillain

    Almost everyone around each corner of the world are complaining about back pain. This is a medical issue which should not be left untreated.Pain in the back is incredibly usual – about 80 percent of individuals are had an effect on at some point in their life time. Anybody could return pain at any age, however it’s even more usual in individuals over the age of 35.*

    The latest posting straight from our own website

    February 10, 2013 at 10:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Margie Bertolami

    n ancient times, the backpack was used as a means to carry the hunter's larger game and other types of prey and as a way of easier transport for other materials. In the cases of larger hunts, the hunters would dismember their prey and distribute the pieces of the animal around, each one packing the meat into many wrappings and then into bags which they placed on to their backs...^;

    Until next time

    May 31, 2013 at 20:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Texas Pain Clinic

    I was really worried to read this post. Parents and teachers have to come together and make sure that the little ones are spared the burden and can spend their childhood like it should be spent. We would never want our kids to be suffering from back pain and should do all that it takes to prevent the condition. A very useful read.
    Read More http://www.texaspainclinic.com/

    August 5, 2013 at 05:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. lauren christy

    Airbac technologies has the solution! Airbac backpacks are created with a built-in air bladder system used to distribute the weight evenly across one's back. The person carrying the bag will actually feel like they're only carrying half the weight because of the weight distribution. It takes the strain off of our back muscles that comes with carrying any other backpack. We have a wide variety of backpacks and bags that you can check out at airbac.com Please go on our website and check out more information about our product!

    May 19, 2014 at 16:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Joe Speyer

    - Hi It is almost that time of that year to buy backpacks . We have the solution for heavy backpacks . I see you do stories about the issues now you have the solution . http://www.airbac.com

    May 14, 2015 at 09:50 | Report abuse | Reply
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