July 29, 2011


LEWISBURG, Tenn. — Backpacks have become a standard part of the back-to-school uniform for young people, but serious health effects can occur for children whose backpacks are too heavy or worn improperly, according to the American Physical Therapy Association. (APTA). As a new school year gets underway, Marshall Medical Center (MMC) offers guidelines for proper backpack usage.

“Children’s muscles and joints are still in the development stage and are at an increased risk of injury,” said Jamie Davis, director of physical therapy at MMC. “Loads that are too heavy can cause strain and fatigue to young backs and those that are not well balanced can lead to improper spinal alignment.” 

A study by APTA members found that more than half of children carried backpacks that were heavier than recommended. A loaded backpack should not weigh more than 15% of the student’s total body weight. For example, a child who weighs 80 pounds should carry no more than 12 pounds in a backpack.

To reduce the risk of an injury, children should always wear the backpack straps on both shoulders so that the weight is evenly distributed. Look for a backpack with padded shoulder straps for increased comfort. Be certain the backpack is proportional to the child’s size. When in use, the pack should sit evenly in the middle of the back with the bottom of the backpack resting in the contour of the lower back.

“When packing books and other school gear into a backpack, parents and children should try to distribute the weight as evenly as possible and pack only what is needed for the day,” said Davis. “If the child must bend forward to manage the weight, the backpack is probably overloaded."

Parents are encouraged to monitor children's backpack usage and watch for any reports of pain, tingling in the arms or red marks on the shoulders as signs that the child may be struggling to carry the load.