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Overloaded Backpacks Often Cause Aches and Pains

By John P. Sheehan, M.D.

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Overloaded backpacks cause​ stress on the spine and shoulders, resulting in muscle fatigue and strain, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). In fact, the excessive weight in backpacks may cause a child to develop poor posture or slouch excessively.

The AAOS recommends that the maximum weight of the child’s backpack not exceed 15-20 percent of the child’s weight. A child who weighs 80 pounds should not carry more than 12-16 pounds in a backpack. This figure may vary depending on the child’s strength and fitness level.

Tips to Prevent Back Pains and Injuries

  • Use a backpack with wide, padded straps and a padded back.
  • Use a hip strap when backpacks are overloaded.
  • Firmly tighten both straps to hold the backpack 2 inches above the waist.
  • Place heavier items close to the back.
  • Use proper lifting techniques: bend at the knees and use the legs to lift the backpack, placing one shoulder strap on at a time.
  • Make frequent stops at the locker to unload books.
  • Use a backpack with wheels.

Recognizing Overloaded Backpacks

Watch for the following warning signs that a backpack is too heavy:

  • Change in posture when wearing the backpack
  • Pain while wearing the backpack
  • Struggling when putting on or taking off the backpack
  • Red marks on the shoulders
  • Tingling or numbness in arms or legs