When Emily's Backpack Weighs More Than She Does

Backpacks are used for more than carrying just books and lunches. Today, your child may need to carry a laptop computer, gym clothes, and school supplies. All these extras add up in weight and may make their backpack too heavy for them to carry.

Many backpacks that appeal to children are ill-designed for the how much they need to carry. They may look pleasing, but they may not have the proper padding and support to keep them from developing chronic back problems.

Having Chronic Back Pain

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), the extra weight in backpacks can lead to medical problems, especially muscle fatigue and strain. Backpacks can also cause injury if the weight of its contents adds up to more than 15% of their 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 two factors were associated with less back pain—school locker availability 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.

Many school districts have textbooks available online. Contact your school district to find out what their policies are. Carrying a mobile device in place of textbooks will certainly go along way in reducing the weight of your child's backpack.


Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians

Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons


Canadian Orthopaedic Association

When it Hurts to Move—Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation


Backpack safety. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00043. Updated August 2015. Accessed September 11, 2017.

Backpack safety. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/backpack.html. Updated August 2016. Accessed September 11, 2017.

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.

Technology in schools. National Conference of State Legislatures website. Available at: http://www.ncsl.org/research/education/technology-in-schools-digital-devices-textbook-funds-educators635678003.aspx. Updated February 10, 2017. Accessed September 11, 2017.

UCSD researchers report results of children’s backpack study. University of California, San Diego Medical Center website. Available at: https://health.ucsd.edu/news/2005/Pages/12_05_Macias.aspx. Accessed September 11, 2017.

Vidal J, Borràs PA, Ponseti FJ, Cantallops J, Ortega FB, Palou P. Effects of a postural education program on school backpack habits related to low back pain in children. Eur Spine J. 2013;22(4):782-787.

Last reviewed September 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP  Last Updated: 9/11/2017