School backpacks: exactly how heavy is too heavy?

July 5th is the day many retailers swiftly transition their seasonal displays from patriotic merchandise to back-to-school supplies. Shipments of spiral notebooks, number 2 pencils, glue sticks, and other educational essentials are unboxed by employees and positioned neatly on the store shelves.


Every year, along with the list of required school supplies furnished by the school, many parents will also add a brand new backpack to their shopping cart. Not because last year’s backpack is completely worn out, but because Elsa or Pikachu might not be cool enough for 5th grade.


Before you know it, the backpack will be overloaded with books and your child may struggle to lift and carry it. So how do you determine if the backpack is unreasonably heavy? The general consensus among orthopedists: a backpack more than 10% to 20% of your child’s body weight could result in back injuries or posture problems. Some examples:


  • 50-lb. child — 5 to 10 lbs. maximum

  • 75-lb. child — 7.5 to 15 lbs. maximum

  • 100-lb child — 10 to 20 lbs. maximum

  • 150-lb. child — 15 to 30 lbs. maximum


Even without knowing the exact weight of the backpack, the load is likely too much if your child leans forward to carry it.


Tips for Parents


When choosing a backpack, look for one that is an appropriate size for your child. It should have two wide, padded shoulder straps. Your child should always use both straps. Also, be sure the straps are tightened to keep the weight closer to the back.


Remind your child to lift heavy backpacks properly by bending at the knees when picking it up.


Ask your child if they experience pain, numbness, tingling, or discomfort in the arms or legs from carrying the backpack. If so, find a way to lighten your child’s load.


  • Don’t carry unnecessary books.

  • Organize the items inside so that heavier items are low and towards the center of the backpack.

  • Have your child remove some of the books and carry them in his or her arms to ease the load on the back.


A rolling backpack may also be an option.


If pain and discomfort persists, your child may benefit from strength-building exercises. Give us a call, we’ll be happy to recommend some. And we can also determine if there may be other issues contributing to the back pain.

Blue Ridge Orthopaedic & Spine Center does not endorse any treatments, procedures, or products referenced on this page. The content is provided as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice. Anyone seeking specific orthopaedic advice or assistance should consult a medical professional.

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