Some kids are literally carrying their world on their backs — books, papers, lunch, water bottles, gym clothes and shoes, art projects, calculators — the list goes on and on. Many youth’s backpacks can weigh in at 30 percent of the wearer’s weight, according to Dr. Pierre D’Hemecourt, sports medicine specialist at Children’s Hospital Boston.

School is just around the corner. My teen is clamoring for a new backpack before the first day of classes, and her primary consideration is, of course, the coolness factor of whatever she chooses in which to carry her daily burden. From a parent’s perspective, I am coming from different angle on choosing an appropriate bag.

Some kids are literally carrying their world on their backs — books, papers, lunch, water bottles, gym clothes and shoes, art projects, calculators — the list goes on and on. Many youth’s backpacks can weigh in at 30 percent of the wearer’s weight, according to Dr. Pierre D’Hemecourt, sports medicine specialist at Children’s Hospital Boston.

Even though there is currently no proof that the overly heavy backpacks alone cause back problems, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons and the American Physical Therapy Association have set guidelines that can be followed to reduce the potential risks associated with overly heavy backpacks. Those risks could include stress fractures of the spine, inflammation of the growth cartilage in the feet, postural changes responsible for neck and back strain and nerve damage from narrow straps digging into the muscle.

If your child is experiencing back pain that continues for more than a day or two, please have her or him evaluated by a health care provider. Also, follow these guidelines to assess whether the backpack is partly to blame.

The backpack should have padded shoulder straps that are both worn at all times. This mode of wearing a backpack has gone in and out of style over the last few years, sometimes being “cool,” and other times being “nerdy.” Encourage your child to wear it properly, no matter what all the others are doing. Adjust shoulder straps so the pack rests in the center of the back. This will keep the child from leaning too far one way or another, compromising his posture. Have your child distribute the load as evenly as possible, so all the weight isn’t in one compartment. De-junk the backpack frequently, so they aren’t carrying around any more than necessary. Ideally, the loaded backpack should not be more than 15 percent of the child’s weight. For example, an 85-pound child’s backpack should weigh no more than about 12 pounds. Check your child’s backpack weight using the bathroom scale.


It wouldn’t be a bad idea for women to check their bags and purses to see how much weight you are carrying around. You also might consider a backpack for yourself — there are some gorgeous fabric and leather ones available — or a purse designed to be held by the handles instead of slung over a shoulder.

With everything that we, youth and adults alike, endure in our fast-paced world, it makes sense to do the simple things we can to lighten our loads.

Pam Maxson is a health educator at Noyes Hospital in Dansville. If you have questions or suggestions for future articles, she can be reached at pmaxson@noyes-hospital.org or 585-335-4327.