How Heavy is too Heavy? Kids and Backpacks

When shopping for backpacks there is more to consider than just fashion and durability. Our kids are carrying more than ever,  and not just back and forth from home and school.  Many students at the middle and high school level, carry their book bags with them all day.

We have seen an increase of lower back, shoulder and neck pain in young patients.  This new back pain trend among youngsters isn’t surprising when you consider the disproportionate amounts of weight they carry in their backpacks – often slung over just one shoulder. Common issues from wearing heavy backpacks for extended periods of time could be anything from simple irritation to diminished nerve capacity, ultimately limiting the muscles’ ability to respond to the brain’s signals, inhibiting movement of the hand and the dexterity of the fingers.

Consumer Report conducted a survey and found that kids from Kindergarten to Fourth Grade carry approximately 5 pounds of homework, by the time they reach 6th grade that number can reach up to 30 pounds. Of those children carrying heavy backpacks to school, 60 percent had experienced back pain as a result.

What Can You Do?

ACA ofers the following tips to help prevent the needless pain that backpack misuse could cause the students in your household.

  • Be sure to bring your school age children in regularly for posture assessments to ensure damage isn’t being done by the use of backpacks.  Having your child adjusted regularly to keep the pathways between the nervous system and the brain open and free to communicate will also reduce the risk of injury.
  • Make sure your child’s backpack weighs no more than 5 to 10 percent of his or her body weight. A heavier backpack will cause your child to bend forward in an attempt to support the weight on his or her back, rather than on the shoulders, by the straps.
  • The backpack should never hang more than four inches below the waistline. A backpack that hangs too low increases the weight on the shoulders, causing your child to lean forward when walking.
  • A backpack with individualized compartments helps in positioning the contents most effectively. Make sure that pointy or bulky objects are packed away from the area that will rest on your child’s back.
  • Bigger is not necessarily better. The more room there is in a backpack, the more your child will carry-and the heavier the backpack will be.
  • Urge your child to wear both shoulder straps. Lugging the backpack around by one strap can cause the disproportionate shift of weight to one side, leading to neck and muscle spasms, as well as low-back pain.
  • Wide, padded straps are very important. Non-padded straps are uncomfortable, and can dig into your child’s shoulders.
  • The shoulder straps should be adjustable so the backpack can be fitted to your child’s body. Straps that are too loose can cause the backpack to dangle uncomfortably and cause spinal misalignment and pain.
  • If the backpack is still too heavy, talk to your child’s teacher. Ask if your child could leave the heaviest books at school, and bring home only lighter hand-out materials or workbooks.
Jennifer Simonette
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