Don’t Overload Kids’ Backpacks

Strategies to Eliminate Pain and Discomfort Associated with Overloaded Packs

This article is from the Autumn 2012 issue of Body Sense magazine.

As kids return to school this fall bearing heavy backpacks, don’t wait for them to complain about back pain. Instead, pay attention to their posture and keep a keen eye on all the items loaded into those packs each day.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 13,700 kids ages 5-18 years old were treated in hospitals and doctors’ offices last year for injuries related to backpacks. Experts recommend that kids carry no more than 10-15 percent of their body weight.

“Backpack injuries are commonly caused by wearing overloaded backpacks, as well as lifting and carrying them incorrectly,” says orthopaedic surgeon and American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) spokesperson Melanie Kinchen.

The AAOS recommends the following safety tips to help eliminate pain and discomfort due to backpacks:
Always use both shoulder straps to better distribute weight.
Tighten the straps and use the waist strap, if the bag has one.
Remove items if the bag is too heavy.
Place biggest items closest to the back.
Bend at the knees to pick up a backpack.
Carry only those items required for the day; leave books at home or school whenever possible.

Additionally, parents can help ward off backpack-related pain by observing their children put on and take off their backpacks to see if they are struggling. Watch for any changes in posture when wearing backpacks, and encourage children to reveal any discomfort that may be caused by a heavy backpack, like numbness or tingling in the arms or legs.

“Parents and teachers should guide kids to take preventive measures,” Kinchen says. “Start by choosing a backpack that is appropriately sized for your child, or have them use a rolling backpack as an alternative to carrying the heavy load on their shoulders.”

By following these tips, it’s possible for you and your kids to work smarter at getting smarter.

This article is a courtesy of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. For more information, visit