PAMF Health Blog

Be Well, Be Well Informed

How Much is Too Much for a Child’s Backpack?

Posted on Aug 26, 2011

As some school districts consider swapping heavy textbooks for e-reader tablets, local health experts understand the impact an overloaded backpack can have on a child — stiff necks, sore shoulders and aching backs. But parents can help prevent these possible pains in a few simple ways.

“Parents are often surprised at how much their child’s backpack actually weighs,” said Dr. Cara Barone, pediatrician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s Palo Alto Center (and a mother of two). “As a general rule, to prevent injury, your child’s full backpack should weigh no more than 10 to 20 percent of his or her body weight.”

How a student wears his or her backpack is often just as important as its overall weight.  Dr. Barone emphasizes the importance of how the back fits and it worn.

“Make sure the backpack is properly fitted to the child so weight is distributed evenly across the back and shoulder area.  Sometimes a backpack with a lumbar strap can help.  It is definitely not a good idea to wear the backpack hanging from just one shoulder or side of the body — this will most definitely cause and aggravate muscular pains,” Dr. Barone cautions.

How much is too much?

Here’s a way to calculate the maximum amount of weight your child should tote:

Child’s weight x .15 = max backpack weight

For example…

50-pound child should carry a maximum of 7.5 lbs

100-pound child should carry a maximum of 15 lbs

150-pound child should carry a maximum of 22.5 lbs

Seven Tips to Lighten the Strain on Your Child’s Back

  1. Buy a backpack with wide, padded straps to minimize pressure on the shoulders and collarbone
  2. Carry the pack on both shoulders to spread the weight evenly; tighten straps so the bag lies about two inches above the waist
  3. Bendboth knees instead of leaning over when hoisting a heavy bag
  4. Consider a backpack with wheels or a waist belt to help take weight off the back
  5. Encourage your child to use his or her locker if they are provided at school
  6. Leather is fashionable, but it’s heavier than nylon
  7. Pack the heaviest items closest to the center of the back to minimize additional strain

Dr. Cara Barone, a pediatrician (and mother of two) at Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s Palo Alto Center, contributed to this blog post.


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