Backpack Safety

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Kids carry a lot in their backpacks: homework, books, lunch, jackets, sports equipment … The list goes on and on. And while your child’s backpack may be big enough to tote all of that around, it doesn’t come without risk. Backpacks that are not worn correctly or that are too heavy can cause joint and muscle problems in children, resulting in possible back, neck and shoulder pain.

Recent medical studies have shown that children commonly carry backpacks that weigh as much as a quarter of their own body weight or more. However, this puts too much strain on the shoulders and back. Children should not carry more than 10% to 15% of their own body weight in their backpacks. So, for example, if your child weighs 80 pounds, their backpack should not weigh more than 8 to 12 pounds. Use your bathroom scale to weigh your child’s backpack when it is fully packed.

What Can I Do?


You can’t control how much homework your child has, but there are many steps you can take to make sure your child isn’t carrying too much weight in his or her backpack.

  • Look into purchasing a second set of the heaviest school books to keep at home. This eliminates the need to carry books back and forth between home and school.
  • Always make sure your child is carrying his or her backpack with a strap over both shoulders, instead of just carrying it on one shoulder. This ensures that the weight is evenly distributed, putting less strain on the muscles and joints.
  • Tighten the shoulder and waist straps so that they are snug against the body.
  • Make sure the backpack rests in the middle of your child’s back. This puts the backpack over the strongest muscles in the back and abdomen.Encourage your child to only carry what is absolutely necessary.
  • Teach your child how to safely pick up a heavy backpack. Your child should bend at the knees and lift with the legs. This protects the back and shoulders.
  • Position the heaviest items in the bottom of the bag.

How to Choose the Right Backpack

  • Two wide, padded shoulder straps
  • Padded back
  • Strap that fastens around the waist
  • Backpack made of lightweight material

What Should I Watch For?

Keep a close eye on your child and how he or she carries a backpack. If you see red marks on the shoulders or notice that your child is slouching or leaning, or if your child complains about any kind of pain or numbness in the back or shoulders, the weight of the backpack may be too heavy.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Created: 04/13

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