Can Backpacks Lead To Back Pain

Can Backpacks Lead To Back Pain

Kids today are years ahead of the rest of us when it comes to technology, and they own more gadgets than ever before. But all those gadgets, plus good old-fashioned books and paper, a lunch and whatever hidden treasures they choose to carry to school can add up to a dangerously heavy backpack. You can probably relate—think of your own backpack, briefcase or purse. Now consider that weight when carried by a child’s still-developing body. Ouch!

kid wearing a backback

It’s not difficult to make sure your child’s backpack is safe, but it is extremely important. Years of wearing a too-heavy or ill-fitted backpack can lead to improper spinal alignment, poor posture and pain. When a child’s backpack is overloaded, carried improperly, or both, it can affect natural spinal development and lead to adverse, long-term physical effects including:

  • Headaches
  • Neck Pain
  • Back Pain
  • Shoulder Pain
  • Aggravation of pre-existing conditions


A good rule of thumb to determine how much weight your child’s spine can handle is to figure 10% of his or her body weight, 15% maximum. So an 80 pound child’s backpack should ideally weigh no more than 8 pounds and 12 pounds maximum. Anything over twelve pounds is unhealthy to this 80 pound child’s developing spine.


  • Choose a backpack that is lightweight when empty.
  • Make sure it fits. The top of the backpack should not extend above your child’s shoulders and the bottom of the pack should not fall below the waist.
  • Look for wide padded adjustable shoulder straps. Padded straps help absorb the load onto your child’s spine. Narrow straps dig painfully into the shoulders.
  • Choose a backpack made of durable material with a padded lumbar cushion to support the back and help protect your child against any sharp objects inside the backpack.
  • Look for a waist strap. This will help to carry the load at the hips, rather than taking all the weight at the shoulders.

Roller bags are not a good solution. An empty roller bag weighs much more than an empty standard backpack and they are usually much larger as well. This encourages your child to put more things into the bag. Even though pulling the bag on the wheels is easy, lifting it out of the car, up and down stairs, etc. puts stress on a child’s body.

Find a good quality backpack that lasts. Your kids will want to personalize their bag and change it up so avoid the trendy and cheaply made bags and instead use LEGO keychains, silly zipper pulls, stickers, or dog tags to allow your child a personal style.

“You can probably relate—think of your own backpack, briefcase or purse. Now consider that weight when carried by a child’s still-developing body. Ouch!”


Even a high-quality, properly fitted backpack can injure your child if not used properly. Follow these simple steps to make sure both you and your child understand the safe way to use his or her backpack.

  • Weigh the backpack once a week to check for overloading.
  • Lighten the load! Leave extra books and supplies at home, and ask teachers if your child can leave necessary supplies at school.
  • Teach your kids how to load their backpack, and do this yourself for younger children:
    Put the heaviest items in first. Make sure the heaviest items sit in the bottom of the bag, closest to your child’s back.
    Distribute the weight evenly on both sides.
  • Make sure your child uses both straps of the backpack. Carrying the backpack with only one shoulder puts repetitive, unbalanced stress on one shoulder.
  • Adjust the shoulder straps so the backpack fits close to your child’s upper back. The closer the backpack weight is to your child’s back, the less stress it will place on back muscles and ligaments.
  • Use the waist strap.
  • Teach your child how to properly bend while wearing the backpack - with both knees, not at the waist.


Once you’re sure the backpack is an appropriate weight and seems to be adjusted correctly, observe your child again for signs of discomfort, and make adjustments if necessary. Because kids grow so fast, you’ll want to make sure your child hasn’t outgrown the backpack, and because they’re kids, make sure they’re not slipping in extra things, making it heavy again.

And lastly, though your spine may not still be developing, you too can benefit from the same advice that keeps your child’s back safe from injury. Do yourself a favor and lighten your own load. Choose a bag that keeps your back safe from injury as well.

Dr. Carrie Oleston is a practicing chiropractic in Tampa, FL at Oleston Chiropractic, P.A. and a mother of two. She can be found on the web at

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