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Kids & Backpacks: How Much is Too Much Weight?

Authored by Dr. Ehsan Jazini, MD. August 24, 2022

It’s the back-to-school season and many parents find themselves asking – is the weight of my kid’s backpack impacting their health? 

No matter how expensive or well-designed the backpack is, carrying a heavy load repeatedly every day could very well be putting your child’s spine health at risk. If you’ve noticed your child struggling to put on or take off their backpack before, it’s probably too heavy! As a spine surgeon, I’ve seen firsthand the consequences of ignoring back pain and piling on more weight. Even if those effects might  be invisible now, they can often present themselves in adulthood. Especially because children’s bodies are still developing, an overloaded backpack can have a very real impact on their muscles, joints, and even posture.  Let’s be proactive now to prevent the wear and tear they could experience in the future.

Not sure exactly how much weight your child should carry? You might be surprised! 

I’ve included a reference below to help you calculate how much your child should carry based on their weight. A good rule of thumb is for the backpack not to go over 10-15% of the child’s body weight. When you exceed that threshold, kids can start to experience stiff necks, sore shoulders, and aching backs. To calculate the maximum amount of weight of your child’s backpack: Child’s weight x .15 = max backpack weight. 

For example, a …

50 lb child should carry a max of 7.5 lbs.
75 lb. child should carry a max of 11.25 lbs.
125 lb. child should carry a max of 18.75 lbs.

 

How a backpack is worn is just as important as how much it weighs.
To avoid back pain and injury, Be sure to adhere to the following guidelines below.

Backpack Safety Tips

Pay attention to the straps!

That means both straps on the shoulders and tightening them so they rest about 2 inches above the waist. Having the straps completely loosened and letting the backpack hang low is a big no-no. 

Both straps should be used each time your child has their backpack on. Carrying too much weight on one side of the body can cause the child to lean in opposite direction in an attempt to offset the weight. This can cause misalignment of the spine. 

Avoid overstuffing the backpack!

Kids are involved a lot these days – from after-school sports, band practice, or tutoring – it seems easier to throw everything into one bag and run out the door. If it’s avoidable, try not to overload the backpack. Maybe this means carrying a separate lunch pack or having a separate sports bag. Maybe they are even carrying more than what is needed for the day. Don’t be afraid to get a little creative in finding ways to unload the backpack.

Consider a wheeling backpack! 

Let’s face it – oftentimes kids are more concerned with what’s in style than what is truly healthy.  While it may not be the ‘coolest’ option, a rolling backpack puts the weight on the wheels instead of the delicate back of your child.  If your child is carrying a lot of school supplies in their bag, consider their back health and go this route. 

Pack heavy items near the center of the back!

Properly distributing the weight can help avoid causing strain on your kid’s body. Pockets, zipper pouches, etc. are all there for a reason. Be sure to utilize all of the backpack’s compartments to help distribute the weight. Heavier supplies like laptops and textbooks can go in the center of the pack. This allows your child to balance the weight evenly on both sides.  

If your child has a locker or cubby they can use in between classes – that’s even better. Unloading as much weight as possible throughout the day seriously reduces the strain on their backs and allows them to move class-to-class more freely. 

Remember: Less weight is always better.

As a parent, you will do anything for your little ones to see them succeed. Taking just a few extra seconds in the mornings to make sure the backpack is packed well goes such a long way. Taking note of these tips today can help create a pain-free tomorrow for your child. 

 


Dr. Ehsan Jazini is a board certified spine surgeon at Virginia Spine Institute. He has been the first in the nation, and in the world, to perform advanced surgical techniques in cervical disc replacement, augmented reality (AR) spine surgery, and robotic spine surgery. Dr. Jazini was the first in the world to perform Augmented Reality guided personalized spine implant surgery using artificial intelligence. As a leading published author in the field of spine surgery, Dr. Jazini was selected as the Editor in Chief of The Spine Health Journal for the National Spine Health Foundation. Learn more about Dr. Jazini.

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Reviewed by: Dr. Ehsan Jazini, MD.

Reviewed by: Dr. Ehsan Jazini, MD.

About The Author

Dr. Ehsan Jazini, MD

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