Is Your Child’s Backpack Affecting His Health?

Backpacks are used by more than 79 million students in the U.S. Now, that school is in full swing and it’s likely your child is filling his pack, it’s a good time to make sure it’s the right one.

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It is recommended by the American Occupational Therapy Association that the backpack not be more than 10 % of the student’s total body weight. For example, a student weighing 100 pounds should not carry a backpack that is more than 10 pounds. The American Physical Therapy Association recommendation is not more than 15% of the student’s body weight. 55% of students carry a backpack that is heavier than the recommended guideline.

A backpack, when properly used, is supported by the back and abdominal muscles. These muscles are some of the strongest muscles in the body. These muscles are used stabilize the trunk and maintain good posture.

Improper backpack use can cause injury to children and teenagers. Growing muscles and joints can be damaged by carrying too heavy of a backpack. When a backpack is too heavy, children compensate with poor postures such as arching of the back or leaning forward. This poor posture and alignment causes muscles to work harder and strains, aches and fatigue to occur. More than 2000 backpack related injuries are treated at medical facilities in a year according to the AOTA.

How do I make my child’s backpack safe?

  1. Stick to the 10 to 15% rule for backpack weight
  2. Wear both straps
  3. Be sure the backpack fits. Shoulder straps should fit comfortably on shoulders and arms should move freely. The bottom of the backpack should rest in the contour of lower back.
  4. The backpack should fit evenly in the middle of the back

Additional tips:

  • A padded back can protect your child’s skin
  • A waist belt helps to transfer some of the weight to the pelvis
  • Compression straps on the side and bottoms of the backpack give extra support
  • Reflective materials for easy viewing of child and backpack

Would it be better if my child had a wheeled backpack?

Wheeled backpacks can be a good option however they generally start out heavier than a typical backpack. They can be difficult to negotiate stairs with. And they may be difficult to fit in a standard locker. What to look for:

  1. Be sure it isn’t too heavy to start
  2. Make sure the handle is long enough to avoid poor posture including twisting and bending.
  3. Be sure wheels are large so the backpack is sturdy

How do I know if the backpack is causing injury?

If your child is reporting pain, tingling or numbness in the arms or has red marks on his shoulders the backpack is too heavy or not the right fit.

Proper backpack use is essential for good health and a good school year.

–Carol Buell, MPT and Amanda Froling, MPT 

References: APTA, Alexandria, VA, April 19, 2009, Is Your Child’s Backpack Making the Grade?; AOTA, 2013, What’s All the Flap About?

1 Response to “Is Your Child’s Backpack Affecting His Health?”


  1. 1 Anonymous October 24, 2013 at 9:05 am

    Wow! Such great tops…very helpful! Thank you, Carol!


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