Back Pain Information for Kids

School Bulletin for Safe Backpack Use

Children Coordinate a New Awareness Program at School

Many of my friends use backpacks because our school doesn't have enough lockers. Some students share a locker, but they still end up carrying a lot of books, gym clothes and equipment, and other stuff around all day. We decided it would be interesting to see how much our individual backpacks weighed on a typical school day. Our homeroom teacher helped us coordinate the big "weigh-in" with other homerooms. It was a fun event and everyone who participated was surprised to learn how much of a load he or she carries!

girl carrying backpack

What we learned was most backpacks are too heavy and overstuffed. Our homeroom teacher did some research, which was posted on all the bulletin boards in our school. Everyone got to take a copy home. Here are some points from our school bulletin:

#1 A backpack should not exceed 20 percent (1) of total body weight! For example, if you weigh 130 pounds, your backpack should not weigh more than 26 pounds. The recommended weight limit is 15 percent (2).

How Much is Your
Body Weight (lbs.)
Recommended Limits: 15% (2)
Maximum Backpack Weight: 20%
10 lbs.
14 lbs.
12 lbs.
16 lbs.
13-1/2 lbs.
18 lbs.
15 lbs.
20 lbs.
16-1/2 lbs.
22 lbs.
18 lbs.
24 lbs.
19-1/2 lbs.
26 lbs.
21 lbs.
28 lbs.
22-1/2 lbs.
30 lbs.

No one should carry more than 25 pounds (2)!

#2 Backpacks with wide padded straps and a padded back are best. The backpack should be positioned to hang just below the shoulders and to rest at the hips/pelvis. The idea is to reduce shoulder and back strain. Have a friend help you tighten the straps so the pack fits correctly. Wear both shoulder straps to distribute the load more evenly. And - use the hip strap for heavy loads!

#3 How the items are packed is important too. The heavy items, like textbooks should be packed close to your back. Organization is key to keeping items in place and finding what you packed!

#4 Is it possible to make a few locker stops through the day? Try to plan what will be needed in the morning and then in the afternoon, and repack accordingly.

#5 Avoid leather backpacks - they may be trendy - but leather is much heavier than canvas!

#6 Avoid large backpacks, especially those with many compartments. This may encourage you to pack more than what is needed.

#7 Can you (or your parents) arrange for a second set of textbooks to be left at home? Then you don't have to carry books to and from school.

#8 If you are involved in athletics - use a separate bag for these clothes and sports equipment. Why carry these items from class to class all day? Carry what you need when it will be needed!

Aches and Pains
We also learned that wearing a backpack incorrectly could place extra stress on the entire spine including the shoulders. Some backpacks are designed poorly, which may cause the weight of the load to be carried in the wrong place. This may make the student feel as though they are being pulled from behind. Leaning forward and rounding the shoulders forward can adversely affect the natural curvature of the lower and upper back.

A lot of kids are complaining of neck, shoulder and back pain from wearing a backpack. The September 14, 1999 issue of the Washington Post stated that the number of children seeking medical treatment for muscles aches and pain in the neck, shoulders, and back are growing. We were surprised to learn that many students at our school have seen a doctor for these same complaints!

Even lifting your backpack to wear it can cause back strain and pain. Here are a few safety tips to follow when lifting your backpack - or helping a friend:

• If the backpack is too heavy to lift, it is too heavy to wear!

• Begin by facing the backpack directly.

• Bend your knees and lift using leg muscle power not back power.

• Do not twist your body while lifting.

• Keep the backpack close to your body while lifting.

A Good Idea Rewarded
Our backpack "weigh-in" was a real success. Everyone had fun and laughed while learning a lot. Our homeroom teacher was pleased with our idea and the school principal has decided to make backpack weigh-in day an annual event. Maybe you can start one at your school!


1. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).

2. American Chiropractic Association (ACA), American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).

Updated on: 11/29/18