Vanderbilt University Medical Center

News and information for the Vanderbilt University Medical Center community

Toggle navigation
Health, yes

Children and backpacks: lighten up their heavy load

Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt offers backpack safety tips

by August 11, 2021

With area schools in full swing and homework assignments piling up, doctors at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt urge parents to check their child’s backpack.

Heavy backpacks can lead to back pain, according to Craig Louer, MD, assistant professor of Pediatric Orthopedics at Children’s Hospital.

A backpack shouldn’t weigh more than 20% of a child’s body weight; a 50-pound child should have a maximum backpack load of 10 pounds.

“Backpacks help us carry books and other items close to our body, where our strongest muscles are,” said Louer. “Still, they can lead to problems like back strain or poor posture if they are too heavy or not loaded properly.”

A backpack shouldn’t weigh more than 20% of a child’s body weight, said Louer, explaining that a 50-pound child should have a maximum backpack load of 10 pounds.

“Avoid the urge to buy a bigger backpack — it just makes us want to fill them up,” he stressed.

Louer said it is important that students use their backpacks correctly — use both arm straps, not just one, and if there are additional clips, across the chest or around the waist, use those as well.

“Backpacks need to be centered on the back and not hanging below the waist, which can be achieved by adjusting the shoulder straps,” Louer added. “All of these adjustments will help distribute the weight of various items students are carrying in their backpacks.”

Louer offers the following tips to help ensure backpack safety and injury prevention:

  • Distribute weight evenly: Heavier and bigger items should be placed in the bottom of the backpack and closer to the child’s back. Ensure that the straps are padded.
  • Leave books or larger items in a locker or at home: Many children carry all their books, even though they may not use them every day. Bring home only the items needed for homework. If there is a large binder, consider taking out the sheets required for an assignment.
  • Accommodations are possible: If a child already experiences back pain, consider speaking with school personnel to obtain a second set of books for home or extra time between classes without penalty. In some cases, rolling backpacks are permitted with a physician’s note.
  • Look for signs of heavy backpacks. Numbness, tingling or discomfort in the arms or legs may indicate an issue with the way a child is carrying a backpack. Watch to see if a child struggles to put on or take off a backpack.

School, Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt, Safety, Craig Louer, Pediatric Orthopaedics, backpack