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Are backpacks bad for our kids? How to choose and how to wear a heavy backpack.

Updated on February 19, 2012

Yet another summer is gone and we send our kids back to school. On the school supplies list, the first item is, usually, a backpack. But is this very useful item damaging our children’s spine and posture. The backpack itself it may be innocent but when we load it with heavy books and other things that we have to fit inside things are not so harmless.

The correlation between back pains and carrying a backpack for a long time has been studied since late 1970, early 1980. Though no restriction or strong medical advice has been released. But many parents have linked the spinal pains and modified posture and gait with heavy backpacks. Yet, when we shop for school pack pack or book bags we have to be aware that we may set our children for a long lasting deformity.


Dr. Orly Avitzur, neurologist and medical advisor for Consumer Report said that “an heavy backpack is a strong contributor to low-back pains in children”.

Doctors have also come to the conclusion that heavy backpacks could be to blame for twisted ankles, shoulder tendons ruptures, or for other issues like muscle spasms, red marks and numbness in arms.

The first sign that the backpack may be to heavy, improper carried or worn for a long periods of time is when your child is leaning forward. Parents should pay attention to this clue and take measures immediately to prevent future injuries.

The good news is that there are some things we can do to prevent back pains and other problems due to carrying a heavy backpack. But we should start with the doctors’ recommendation that a backpack should not be heavier then 20 percent of the body weight. The best load should be around 10 percent.

When shopping for a school backpack, doctors and therapists have these useful tips:

  • a light backpack fabric is better then a heavy one, this is one easy way to cut on loading the back with unnecessary weight
  • adjustable shoulder straps can elevate the backpack on the child’s back so reducing the risk of posture damage and spinal pain.
  • padded shoulder straps make it easier on muscles and tendons
  • wide shoulder straps can distribute the weight to a larger area, reducing red spots, numbness or other shoulder problems.
  • the anchor points of the shoulder straps should be 1 to 2 inches bellow the top of the shoulder for the best fit.
  • the smaller the backpack the better and easier on your child’s back, because it can reduce the amount of things that can fit inside and thus the weight of the load.
  • the bottom of the backpack should not go lower then the child’s waist line


There also some other things that can be done to prevent problems.
First is important to educate our children in proper carrying a backpack, like

  • wear the backpack on both shoulders
  • tighten lousy straps
  • use the waist strap if there is one
  • don’t carry it if is not necessary
  • pack the heaviest items closer to the back

Also there are other things parents and children can do to minimize the risk of back pains or injuries:

  • go light by avoiding heavy items inside the backpack
  • consider a tote for carrying extra heavy books
  • buy two sets of books, one for school and one for home (that can be easily resold the next year)
  • a rolling backpack can work for an one story school
  • and last but not least consider buying an e-reader and download the books.

Back to school can get expensive when you have more then one kid. Trying to stay on a budget while buying every single item from the school supply list - list that seems to become longer and longer with every year - it is a huge task. It is easy to loose track of some common things like backpacks. But we should remind ourselves that choosing now the right backpack may save our children future.


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    • KiaKitori profile image

      KiaKitori 6 years ago

      tirelesstraveler, you are sure right. And I'm glad you added this information. As for parents, I too carry my kid bckpack whenever I can. Thanks for voting.

    • KiaKitori profile image

      KiaKitori 6 years ago

      Thanks for your visit Simone. I was a little suprised that there wasn't more of a discusion about this subject, as teachers ask for bigger backpacks even for preschool kids. Their back and shoulders get sore as I know from my own kid. I had to beg the teacher to let her have a little backpack, more appropriate for her age.

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 6 years ago from California

      Thanks for the useful tips on wearing backpacks. When used correctly backpacks can help with posture and back pain.- Living near an elementary school I see lots of parents who are carrying their kids backpacks in their hands. Either the packs are not heavy or the parents need to read your hub. I vote useful and informative.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

      What a great Hub, KiaKitori! I'm a big stickler for good posture, so I'm happy to see someone else advising people to wear backpacks PROPERLY! Voted up and useful. I hope lots of people read this and are thus prevented a lot of back pain... and impeded movement!

    • KiaKitori profile image

      KiaKitori 6 years ago

      K9keystrokes, thank you for promoting my hub. Carrying a heavy backpack is similar to lifting where you need to keep the load close to your body to avoid back injuries. thanks again K9. PS I like your pen name.

    • KiaKitori profile image

      KiaKitori 6 years ago

      Flora, I'm sorry to hear about your back problems. At least you didn't have to carry books. Many elementary schools do not have a locker. They only have hooks on the hallways. But the little kids still bring notbooks, folders, books, lunch bags, snowboots and the backpack itself. It gets very heavy for a 7 year old.

    • KiaKitori profile image

      KiaKitori 6 years ago

      Thank you Cardisa. For few yearscI watched my neighbours kids waking to the buss stop and leanining forward. Now, that some are not in school anymore, they still lean forward.

    • K9keystrokes profile image

      India Arnold 6 years ago from Northern, California

      I learned a ton of information about how to properly wear a backpack by reading this hub. For the sake of our kids who are on their way back to school, everyone should check out this article. Who knew the heavy stuff should be packed closer to the back itself? Great read. Sharing and totally tweetable!



    • FloraBreenRobison profile image

      FloraBreenRobison 6 years ago

      I never used a backpack. I carried my books in a shoulder bag. Then everything went in my locker. I didn't walk to school, soI didn't need to worry about carry all those books for a long period on my back. I have back problems already because one leg is shorter than the other. I did have to do a lot of walking with my bag of books-about twenty pounds-when I got to university.

    • Cardisa profile image

      Carolee Samuda 6 years ago from Jamaica

      Very good tips on backpacks. I am pleased that someone had the inspiration to think of this. I will share this hub as I think it is important to know how to wear a backpack the correct way and what types to purchase for best back support.