How Heavy Is Too Heavy for a Kid's Backpack?

Many modern kids haul backpacks that weigh roughly a quarter of their own body weight, risking serious pain and posture issues. But how heavy is too heavy?

With screen time at an all-time high and unrestricted outdoor play at an all-time low, kids' posture is worse than ever.

One other factor causing misalignment and pain? Heavy backpacks. As the amount of coursework has gradually increased in schools, the days of slim bags used to carry little more than a notebook and a couple folders are over. Now even very young children are carrying large bags to and from school, and teens are often hauling around gigantic packs stuffed with half a semester's worth of stuff. Lugging around these cumbersome bags day after day can have numerous negative impacts on children's and teen's still-growing bodies. 

The National Safety Council states that backpacks that are too heavy can cause "back, neck and shoulder pain as well as poor posture." A 2017 study published in the journal Work found that acute loading with a backpack equivalent to 15% of the wearer's own body weight led to "a more forward posture of the head on the neck" in young adults, which is one of the most common (and most potentially damaging) posture problems in modern society. Many students now carry backpacks that weigh roughly a quarter of their own body weight.

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With screen time at an all-time high and unrestricted outdoor play at an all-time low, kids' posture is worse than ever.

One other factor causing misalignment and pain? Heavy backpacks. As the amount of coursework has gradually increased in schools, the days of slim bags used to carry little more than a notebook and a couple folders are over. Now even very young children are carrying large bags to and from school, and teens are often hauling around gigantic packs stuffed with half a semester's worth of stuff. Lugging around these cumbersome bags day after day can have numerous negative impacts on children's and teen's still-growing bodies. 

The National Safety Council states that backpacks that are too heavy can cause "back, neck and shoulder pain as well as poor posture." A 2017 study published in the journal Work found that acute loading with a backpack equivalent to 15% of the wearer's own body weight led to "a more forward posture of the head on the neck" in young adults, which is one of the most common (and most potentially damaging) posture problems in modern society. Many students now carry backpacks that weigh roughly a quarter of their own body weight.

RELATED: What is 'Text Neck'?

But forgoing backpacks entirely seems unrealistic. So, just how heavy is too heavy? The American Chiropractic Association recommends a child's backpack weigh no more than 10 percent of their own body weight. So for a 100-pound child, a 10-pound backpack would be the limit, while for a 160-pound teen, a 16-pound pack would represent the maximum. And what about rolling backpacks?

While some school districts have expressed concern over these bags due to potential trip hazards, they remain quite popular. In Spain, for example, more than 40% of children use a form of wheeled backpack. A recent study from the University of Granada found that 20% of the child's body weight should represent the maximum for these types of rolling bags. Beyond that, repetitive kinematic compensations become potentially harmful. 

Buying children smaller backpacks to begin with can go a long way toward helping them lighten their load. When a child has a large bag with a lot of storage capacity, they don't think twice about filling it. But a leaner bag forces them to more closely examine what actually needs to go inside there. How they wear the bag is also a key factor. These graphics from the ACA provide some great tips:

Although we've long associated low back pain with older adults, it's becoming increasingly common among students. A 2017 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics found nearly one fifth of teens between the ages of 14-16 experienced low-back pain. Along with carrying a lighter pack, helping your child spend less time craning over screens and more time moving outdoors can help alleviate these concerning issues.

Now just because kids shouldn't haul around super heavy bags all throughout the school day does not mean that well-designed strength training is dangerous for them. The two are totally different, and the latter can actually reduce a young persons risk of injury. Read more on strength training for kids (and how to tell if your child is ready for it) here.

Photo Credit: American Chiropractic Association, AsISeeIt/iStock

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Topics: POSTURE | BACKPACKS | BACK PAIN | YOUTH SPORTS | POOR POSTURE | MIDDLE SCHOOL | HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS | HIGH SCHOOL