Backpack Safety: How Much Is Too Much for Kids?

When kids go back to school, it’s an ideal time for parents and students to remember the importance of backpack safety.

What’s the danger of backpacks? Their weight! As the kids pack up their homework, all those books and papers can get heavy really quickly.

An overweight pack can lead to tissue or muscle strain and fatigue, and possible neck, shoulder and back injury. In a recent year, overweight packs resulted in nearly 22,200 injuries such as:

  • Strains
  • Sprains
  • Dislocations
  • Even fractures

Some injuries can result in life-long pain.

How Much is Too Much Backpack Weight?

If you wonder about your child’s backpack weight, we recommend the backpack weigh no more than 10 to 15 percent of your child’s weight (less is better).

For example:

  • If your child weighs 40 pounds, the pack should weigh no more than 4 to 6 pounds.
  • If your child weighs 58 pounds, the pack should weigh 5.8 to about 8 pounds or less.
  • For a 72-pound child, keep the pack less than 7 to 11 pounds.

Signs Your Child’s Pack is Too Heavy

Your child:

  • Has pain when wearing the backpack.
  • Notices tingling or numbness in the arms or hands.
  • Has red marks on the neck, back or shoulders.
  • Struggles to put the pack on or take it off.
  • Changes posture or slumps when wearing the pack.

Backpack Safety Tips

  • Use both straps of the pack. This helps distribute the weight more evenly. We recommend a two-strap backpack because a one-strap pack can also leave the pack’s weight out of balance.
  • Choose a pack with well-padded shoulder straps.
  • The bottom of the pack should rest in the curve of your child’s lower back. If it’s too high or low on the back, the weight will not be best distributed on your child’s back.
  • Adjust the shoulder straps so it’s easy for your child to get the pack on and off. It should be comfortable for your child to move her/his arms while the pack is on.
  • If the pack has a chest and/or waist belt, your child should use them. They take only a moment to connect and help distribute the weight better.
  • Encourage your child to carefully select items to put in the backpack. Carry only items required for homework. When packing, your child should keep the heaviest items closest to her/his back. This will reduce the force the weight applies to the child’s back. Your child should keep in mind some items can be carried by hand rather than being placed in the backpack.
  • If your child routinely must carry too much weight in the pack, consider a wheeled pack if allowed by your child’s school.

Learn more about backpack safety from the American Occupational Therapy Association and the American Physical Therapy Association.

Meet the Author

Suzanne Kletch, DPT, CFS is a physical therapist at Aurora St. Luke’s Health Center in Franklin, WI.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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