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How Students Can Minimize Pain From Carrying Heavy Backpacks

Maintaining the proper weight and a proper fit are essential to avoid discomfort from backpacks.

Although some students view school as a pain, it really may be a pain for others because of heavy backpacks. A local physical therapist talks about ways to minimize the discomfort.

The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission says an estimated average of 7,400 kids under 19 were treated in emergency rooms for injuries related to backpacks from 2016 to 2018.

Margaret Bryant, a physical therapist with Parkland Hospital, talked about the types of injuries caused by backpacks.


Who’s experiencing problems and what kind: “It's been involved with all ages of kids — pre-K level to middle school, up to high school age and into college as well.  The complaints include neck pain, shoulder pain, having discomfort just being able to get the backpack from point A to point B."

How much should a student’s backpack weigh? “A middle school child should carry only 5% to 10% of their body weight. A high school student should carry 10% to 15% of their body weight. When you really boil it down, it needs to be no more than 25 pounds.” 

Ways to minimize injury from backpacks:

  • Make sure it fits correctly. "It needs to hit between the shoulder blades it needs to start at the crest of their shoulder blade right at the shoulder and then it needs to hit them only four inches below their waist and so our waist is a good landmark as your belly button."
  • The right type to buy: "Look for a backpack that has two straps padded for comfort and for correct position adjustable straps so you can make the adjustments needed. Also, extra waist straps because it a backpack needs to be as close to the body so that the weight is evenly distributed close to the body not hanging away from the body." 
  • Also: "If the backpack is weighed and it's more than 25 pounds, a good resolution would be to take out parts actually carry them in your hands in front of you so that the weight is distributed from the front and the back. That decreases the pressure to the back and the spine."


How to Tell If Your Child’s School Backpack Weighs Too Much

Is your backpack too heavy?

National Safety Council: Backpack Safety: It's Time to Lighten the Load

Don't Let Backpacks Lead to Back Injury

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.