If they are not worn correctly, heavy backpacks can contribute to back pain in children and young adults. Backpacks do not cause any type of structural scoliosis; they also do not cause scoliosis to progress.

When backpacks are used correctly, your child should be able to carry books and supplies without causing problems to his or her neck, shoulders and back.

What kind of backpack should my child use?

Choose a backpack made of light material, such as canvas or nylon. Be sure it is the right size for your child.

Look for:

  • Wide, padded shoulder straps
  • Padded back
  • Waist strap
  • Multiple compartments

We recommend reflective strips on the bag. They make the child easier to see before sunrise and at night.

How do I pack a backpack?

Always pack the backpack so that most of its weight rests low on your child’s back near the waist. Pack the heaviest books closest to the body and place other items equally on the right and left sides.

Your child should:

  • Bend his or her knees to pick up a backpack.
  • Clean the backpack weekly to take out things that are not needed.
  • Put items in a locker so the backpack is not heavy.
  • Take only what is needed to school.

How much should a backpack weigh?

Backpacks should not weigh more than 10 to 15 percent of your child’s body weight. This means a child who weighs 100 pounds should not have a backpack that weighs more than 10 to 15 pounds.

  • If your child needs to lean forward to support the backpack’s weight, then it is too heavy.
  • Use backpacks with wheels and handles if your child needs to carry more than 15 percent of his or her body weight.

How should my child wear the backpack?

Your child should wear it so that it puts weight on the strongest muscles in the body: the back and stomach. This means: 

  • Your child should wear a strap over each shoulder.
    • Adjust the shoulder straps so the backpack rests in the middle of your child’s back.
    • The backpack should fit close to your child’s body.
  • Secure the waist strap.
    • This helps keep the backpack close to your child’s body.
  • Pack items in compartments.
    • This helps distribute heavy loads evenly.
  • Make sure the bottom of the backpack rests in the curve of the lower back.
  • Check the height of the backpack.
  • It should go from waist level up to about 2 inches below the shoulders.
  • The backpack should never sit more than 4 inches below the waistline.

What else can I do to help my child?

Talk to your child and his or her teachers to make sure there are no problems. For example, if your child is having back pain and has a heavy book, ask for a second book to keep at home. Ask your child to tell you if he or she has any of the following back, shoulder or neck problems: 

  • Pain
  • Numbness (lack of feeling)
  • Tingling (itchy or stinging feeling)