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Is your child's backpack making the grade?


A backpack is a better way to carry life’s necessities than a briefcase or shoulder bag, especially for longer periods of time. When properly worn, a backpack is supported by the strongest muscles in the body. Typically, the muscles close to the center of the body are stronger and have greater endurance than those further away from the center. But, a backpack used improperly can be dangerous to young joints and muscles that are still growing. The following guidelines will help your child avoid injury when using a backpack.

Wear both straps

Slinging a backpack over 1 shoulder causes a person to lean to 1 side to compensate for the uneven weight. This curves the spine. Over time, this can cause lower and upper back pain, strained shoulders and neck, and even scoliosis, or curvature of the spine. Teenage girls are especially susceptible to scoliosis.

Make sure the backpack is not too heavy

Students of all ages seem to be carrying heavier loads. They often carry a full days’ worth of textbooks and a change of clothes for after-school activities. Laptop computers are also common features in the backpacks of high school and college students. A backpack can easily weigh 20 to 50 pounds. However, a backpack should weigh no more than 15 to 20 percent of the student’s body weight. For example, a 75-pound child should carry no more than 15 pounds. Even when worn properly with both straps, leaning forward to compensate for this extra weight can affect the natural curve in the lumbar, or lower back, region. As a result, the student may experience back, shoulder and neck pain.

Pay attention to the type of backpack

Look for backpacks with wide straps. Narrow straps can dig into the shoulders and put pressure on nerves that are close to the surface. Narrow straps can also hinder circulation, causing numbness or tingling in the arms. Over time this may cause weakness in the hands. Also, look for a backpack with a waist belt. Tightening the belt helps distribute the weight of the backpack more evenly. Backpacks with 1 strap that runs across the body should be avoided because 1 shoulder will continually bear the entire weight of the bag. It is also wise to consider the weight of the backpack when empty. For example, a canvas or nylon backpack will be lighter weight than leather.

Additional guidelines for using backpacks

  • Make frequent stops at the locker to avoid carrying all books at once.
  • Leave non-essential items at home.
  • Let someone know you have pain before a problem becomes serious.


This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.

St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.

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