It’s that time of year again: the last weekend of summer has come to an end, the kids are going back to school, and the daily routine of the work week has returned.

The return to school is often accompanied by the return of…the heavy backpack. Given this, there are a number of points to consider when filling those backpacks (and purses) to avoid unnecessary stresses and strains placed on your child’s body. This year you can be proactive and prevent potential aches, pains, and injuries due to over weighted and unbalanced backpacks. Read on to find out how!


There are a number of items that children bring to school each day that can make the weight of their backpacks really heavy. There are several consequences that an over weighted backpack can have on your child’s body, so it is important to note that a child’s backpack should not weigh more than 10% of their body weight (i.e. a 60lb child should carry no more than a 6lb backpack).

An oversized or over weighted backpack can cause excessive stress and strain on structures in the neck, shoulders, and low back. Strained neck and shoulder muscles can cause pain and headaches that can significantly impact school work, and impact your child’s overall posture and body positioning. Poor posture in turn can further exacerbate neck and shoulder pain creating an ongoing cycle of pain and dysfunction. If not managed properly, activities that recruit neck and shoulder muscles such as computer work, school work, throwing, and/or stick handling can cause extreme neck and shoulder pain.

It is important to look for a backpack with thick padded straps because a complex system of arteries and nerves run down the neck, underneath where the backpack straps run, and into the shoulders and arms. A heavy backpack with thin straps can put extreme pressure on these structures and compromise circulation to the arms and/or cause the nerves to be stretched. This can cause pins and needles in the arms and hands, and lead to feelings of heaviness and pain. Thick padded straps will help distribute the weight of the backpack more easily and reduce the pressure on these structures.

In addition to thick padded straps, ensure that the backpack straps are tightened so that the backpack fits snuggly against the child’s spine above the lower curve of the back and waistline. If the backpack is fitted snuggly against the back, the whole body is able to accommodate the added weight. However if the straps are too loose and the backpack hangs to low, an abnormal amount of strain is placed on the low back. This can lead to complaints of low back pain and/or aching which in turn can impact school activities like sitting at a desk and various activities in gym class. This can also be caused if heavier items are packed further from the child’s back and off center, so try to pack heavier items close to the child’s back and in the center of the backpack.

Lastly, ensure that your child wears their backpack with both straps to help distribute the weight evenly throughout the body. If only one strap is worn, the body will shift in an attempt to compensate for the uneven weight and result in significant muscle imbalances throughout the trunk and spine. These muscle imbalances can cause abnormal curvatures of the spine and disrupt normal spinal alignment, which can lead to other complications further down the road.

Refer to the summary points below to prevent theses and other potential injuries from occurring due to a heavy backpack!

How to wear a backpack properly:

  • ensure the backpack weighs no more than 10% of the child’s body weight
  • wear both straps
  • above the waist line
  • center the weight close to child’s back
  • use another bag to carry items will cause the backpack to be too heavyIt is important to remember that these same points also apply when wearing a heavy purse on one shoulder!

Use these same considerations and look for a purse that has a thicker flatter shoulder strap. If you tend to wear your purse on only one shoulder, be mindful of this and try to switch shoulders every 10 minutes. Alternatively, carry your purse in your hand and use your core muscles to keep your spinal alignment and continue to switch hands every 10 minutes. Lastly, try to limit the amount of weight you are carrying in your purse by only having items that are necessary for the day!


Kids Health: Backpack safety
American Occupational Therapy Association: Backpack strategies for parents and students
American Academy of Pediatrics: Back to school tips.
5 Backpack Safety Tips:


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