• When Emily's Backpack Weighs More Than She Does

    IMAGE They used to be for carrying books and lunches. When you add portable video games, gym clothes, and designer school supplies, though, backpacks are just too heavy for most kids.
    Many backpacks that appeal to children are ill-designed for the task at hand—carrying a day's worth of school books, supplies, gym clothes, and kid treasures. They may look pleasing, but they may not have the proper padding and support to keep children from developing chronic problems with their backs.

    Having Chronic Back Pain

    According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), the extra weight in backpacks can lead to medical problems for kids, with muscle fatigue and strain at the top of the list. Backpacks can also injure a child if the weight of its contents adds up to more than 15% of his or her body weight.
    In a study of children in middle school, researchers found that 37% reported back pain. A third of the students said that the pain limited them from doing some activities. Researchers also found that 2 factors were associated with less back pain: having school lockers available and using a lighter backpack.

    Lightening the Load

    Follow these tips to help lighten your child's load:


    • Use both of the backpack's straps. Make sure the straps are firmly tightened.
    • Tighten the straps so the top is just below the base of the head and 2 inches above your waist. When packs are carried low on the back, near the buttocks, it weighs down the spine.
    • Use correct lifting techniques. Bend with both knees when picking up a heavy back pack.
    • Place the heaviest items close to your back.
    • Neatly pack your backpack, and try to keep items in place.
    • Try to make frequent trips to your locker between classes to replace books.


    • A backpack's weight should not exceed 15% of your child's body weight, and even less for a young child.
    • Select a backpack with padded, wide straps and a padded back.
    • Use a hip strap for heavier weights.
    • If your child's school allows them, consider purchasing a backpack with wheels or a pack with an internal frame.
    • Consider purchasing a second set of books for home.
    • Buy the smallest backpack possible.
    • Clean out your young child's backpack once a week.
    • Talk to your child's teacher about sending home only what is absolutely necessary.


    Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians http://www.familydoctor.org

    Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons http://www.aaos.org


    Canadian Orthopaedic Association http://www.coa-aco.org

    Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation http://www.canorth.org


    Backpack safety. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00043. Updated August 2015. Accessed November 5, 2015.

    Backpack safety. Nemours' KidsHealth website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/positive/learning/backpack.html. Updated August 2013. Accessed November 5, 2015.

    Skaggs DL, Early SD, D’Ambra P, Tolo VT, Kay RM. Back pain and backpacks in school children. J Pediatr Orthop. 2006;26:358-363.

    UCSD researchers report results of children’s backpack study. University of California, San Diego Medical Center website. Available at: http://health.ucsd.edu/news/2005/Pages/12%5F05%5FMacias.aspx. Accessed November 5, 2015.

    Revision Information

  • LiveWell personal health survey

    How healthy are you really? Find out – free.Learn more

    It's time to stop guessing. If you want to make some changes but just aren't sure how, the free personal health survey from LiveWell is a great place to start.

  • HeartSHAPE Spotlight

    At risk for a heart attack? Learn more

    Fight heart disease and prevent heart attacks. HeartSHAPE® is a painless, non-invasive test that checks pictures of your heart for early-stage coronary disease.

  • Calories and Energy Needs

    Calorie NeedsLearn more

    How many calories do you need to eat each day to maintain your weight and fuel your physical activity? Enter a few of your stats into this calculator to find out.

  • Ideal Body Weight

    Ideal Body WeightLearn more

    Using body mass index as a reference, this calculator determines your ideal body weight range. All you need to do is enter your height.

  • Body Mass Index

    Body Mass IndexLearn more

    This tool considers your height and weight to assess your weight status.

  • Can we help answer your questions?

    Wellmont Nurse Connection is your resource for valuable health information any time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Speak to a Nurse any time, day or night, at (423) 723-6877 or toll-free at 1-877-230-NURSE.