Backpacks Weighing Your Kids Down? Healthy Back to School Tips

by Christina Lasich, MD Health Professional

Select a good backpack

Choose a bag with padded shoulder straps, a padded back, and a waist strap. Wide shoulder straps are ideal to distribute weight. The cushioning reduces pressure on muscles and adds more comfort.

Overloaded back pack
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Keep the backpack light

A backpack should always weigh less than 10 percent to 20 percent of your child's weight, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Studies have found that over half of kids surveyed carried book bags over this recommended limit. Heavy bags can cause kids to lean forward and poor body alignment.

Too big, backpack on very little child
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Backpack fits properly

The size of the backpack should fit the size of your child. Make sure the bag isn't too big (like in the photo). Tighten shoulder straps so the bag isn't sagging towards the bottom, but leave enough room for arm movement.

Boy walking to school wearing backpack with both straps
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Wear both shoulder straps

Teach your kids to always carry the backpack on both shoulders to evenly distribute the weight. While it may look "cooler," slinging the bag over one shoulder can strain muscles. Use the waist strap for extra support in the hip area.

Packing school bag with books
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Don't pack too much

Pack light and don’t overload the backpack. Place heavier items like text books closest to the center of the back. Use all compartments of the bag to evenly distribute the weight. Try to get paperback books instead of hardback ones.

Overstuffed cluttered backpack
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Clear clutter from backpack

Extra stuff adds more weight. Set up a routine to go through the contents of the bag daily. Remove books, toys, and anything that isn't essential.

Teen with messenger bag in school
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Don't use messenger bags for school

Messenger bags are in style but can be more harmful healthwise than a traditional backpack. When loaded with lots of books, the messenger bag's single strap can lead to excess pressure and strain on the body. If using a messenger bag, be sure to regularly switch sides and wear the straps across both shoulders.

Backpack hanging on open locker
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Use lockers

Encourage students to drop off and pick up text books between classes. Tell your kids not to carry around all of his textbooks during the entire school day. Talk to teachers and school administrators to see if there’s ample time in the schedule for locker stops.

two young children exercising in field
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Strengthen back muscles

Building strength in the back, abdominal, and core areas is the best way for your children to prevent injury and ease pain. Show your kids lower back stretches and strength moves. Low impact exercises like swimming and bike riding. Try yoga for kids, which has soothing benefits for kids but also promotes flexibility and endurance in a fun way.

Christina Lasich, MD
Meet Our Writer
Christina Lasich, MD

Christina Lasich, M.D., wrote about chronic pain and osteoarthritis for HealthCentral. She is physiatrist in Grass Valley, California. She specializes in pain management and spine rehabilitation.