HCA Midwest Health - October 23, 2023

Is your child’s back pack a pain in the neck? Being loaded down with books and school supplies can lead to more than just study problems.

“The weight can pull a child backward, making them bend forward at the hips or arch the back to stay steady,’ says Dr. Katherine McDaniel, family medicine physician at Family Health Medical Group of Overland Park – a part of HCA Midwest Health. “This unnatural position can lead to shoulder, neck, and back pain.”

When shopping for a backpack, here are a few things to look out for:

  • The backpack should fit between the top of your child’s shoulders and lower back.
  • Wide, padded straps help distribute the weight of the backpack more broadly across the shoulders and chest.
  • Adjustable shoulder straps ensure that the backpack can be worn snugly against the child’s body. There should not be a gap between the backpack and your child’s body.
  • A backpack that has chest straps and a hip belt (especially for older students) helps to distribute the weight of heavy textbooks across the whole body.
  • Smaller compartments help to distribute the weight inside the backpack.
  • Ensure the bag does not hang more than two inches below the waistline.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, kids do not carry more than 15 percent of their body weight in a backpack.

“This means a child who weighs 100 pounds shouldn't have a backpack that weighs more than 15 pounds, says Dr. McDaniel. “I encourage parents to use the bathroom scale to check.”

Here’s a few tips to help lighten the load:

  • Monitor the weight of the backpack so it doesn’t get too heavy.
  • Encourage kids to use their locker or desk often throughout the day instead of carrying the entire days’ worth of books in the backpack.
  • Make sure kids don't tote unnecessary items that can add extra pounds to a pack.
  • Encourage kids to bring home only the books needed for homework or studying each night.
  • Use all of the backpack's compartments, putting heavier items, such as textbooks, closest to the center of the back.

If your child experiences any of these common side effects of improper backpack use, it may signal time to lighten the load or change your child’s backpack. Here are seven warning signs of improper backpack use:

  • Pain in the back, neck, shoulders or knees
  • Headaches
  • Red marks on the shoulders from backpack straps
  • Tingling or numbness in the arms
  • Difficulty getting the backpack on or off
  • Forward posture when wearing the backpack
  • Poor posture when not wearing the backpack

“If your child has back pain or numbness or weakness in the arms or legs, it’s time to talk to their primary care physician,” says Dr. McDaniel.