Can Kids Damage Their Backs with Heavy Backpacks?

by Guest Contributor

Grace Pamer, the love letters lady behind Romantic Frugal Mom, is joining us today for a fantastic guest post. We are so thrilled she is sharing her thoughts on the topical debate of whether kids can damage their backs with heavy backpacks.

Should backpacks be banned?

Although some schools have banned backpacks due to safety concerns, most have not. These cumbersome yet convenient packs cause innumerable injuries and may even be responsible for chronic back and neck pain in youth.

There’s truth in the numbers

It may be hard to believe, but approximately 10,000 doctor and emergency room visits each year are backpack related. Aside from the weight issues and back problems, backpacks are to blame for numerous accidents as kids trip over them, are knocked down by other kids’ heavy packs and even fall down stairs due to losing their balance from carrying overly heavy backpacks.

In addition to all the above accidents, students can injure their backs causing chronic neck and back pain if their backpacks are too heavy. How heavy is too heavy? The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that backpacks should weigh no more than 10 to 20 percent of a student’s body weight, but many health professionals believe this is pushing the limits and recommend 15 percent of body weight as the upper limit.

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By Eden Pictures
One study found that only a tiny fraction of parents know what is in their kids’ backpacks let alone how much they weigh. Families that stick to a 10 to 15 percent rule find it quite easy to calculate and thus enforce. A 90-pound child can carry a pack that weighs between 9 and 13.5 pounds for example. Rounding numbers and calculating in your head is easy and provides a quick math lesson for kids of any age.

Fashion as ever plays a big part

Backpack fashions and trends vary widely by school, as kids are especially sensitive to fitting in with the crowd. In some schools, it’s almost as if there is a contest going on to see who can carry the heaviest backpack, while in others, it is simply not cool to even have a backpack.

As a parent, you may find it difficult to overcome these trends and enforce reasonable backpack rules, so be aware of what other kids are doing. Heavy packs slung over one shoulder are the most damaging for kids’ backs. If nothing else, insist that kids use both straps to evenly distribute the weight.

Buy them backpacks that are designed specifically to evenly distribute the weight and show them exactly how the backpack should be worn. Wheeled backpacks are an option for kids who go to schools that allow them, but they pose their own set of hazards, as tripping over them is much more common.

Educate to alleviate

Helping younger children load their packs shows them that putting the heaviest books close to their backs makes it easier to carry and helps keep the child in balance. This is also a good time to sort through the contents of the bag. You might be amazed at what is lurking in there! Everything from month-old food to important “lost” assignments are commonly found at the bottom of backpacks.

Kids can definitely damage their backs with overly heavy backpacks, so help them while they are young to get into good backpack habits. We all know how difficult it can be to get kids to follow a parent’s advice, so this is a good instance where having your family doctor discuss the problems that heavy backpacks cause can really help. Do your kids really want to risk being unable to play their favorite sports if their backs are too painful to play? This actually happens. When discussing backpacks, as with all other issues, be calm, supportive and honest with your kids, they will be much more likely to listen.

What do you think?


About the author:

Grace Pamer is a mother of 3 and widely known as the love letters lady. She runs a popular section called love letters for her on her blog.



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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kara February 24, 2012 at 10:28 pm

My right shoulder is noticeably lower than my left from all my years of wearing my backpack slung over that shoulder. It has caused my neck to be out of alignment, causing pinched nerves and migraines. I always make sure my kids have their bag on both shoulders and hope they will continue to do so as they get older.

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2 Grace Pamer February 27, 2012 at 10:16 am

I’m sorry to hear that Kara. It’s an all too commong occurance and one that kids repeat every generation. The one shoulder look is all too cool and casual and the repeat carrying option of choice for the cool kids unfortunately. I too hurt my back carrying my bag this way. I have to tell my kids long term ‘that was not cool!’

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3 paige February 24, 2012 at 10:41 pm

Most backpacks are cheaply made overseas with no support. I prefer really well made backpacks like those from Kelty or serious backpack makers. I don’t use a backpack that comes from your bargain box store. My packs as a kid weighed 35 lbs if I had all my books. I went through alot of bags. I went to Catholic school and the texts were large to say the least. If the gripe is that there are no cute or character backpacks available, there are patches that kids can add or iron ons with their favorite character. Personalize it and save your kids back. Let them personalize with pens, buttons, or my favorite sharpies. Make it special.

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4 Winn Sams, D.C. May 5, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Hello Grace,
Thank you for being a caring parent and proactive in your voicing your opinion!
I am a NC Chiropractor who formed a grassroots mission to bring education and awareness to the serious damage that happens with heavy backpacks. I am working state by state and on the federal level to make changes happen. Please look at my website and sign the support page!

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