Is Your Child’s Backpack a Pain?

As middle and high school students return to the classroom, the concern of how much weight they’re carrying in their backpacks is sure to arise. A study conducted by University of California in Riverside found that there are reasons to be concerned:

Most students said they hurt, at least a bit, from their backpacks; 64% reported having back pain at some time. Two of every five children said they felt pain while wearing their backpacks. In students reporting pain, about 12% said it was “not bad,” while almost 90% said their back pain was “bad” or “very bad.”

Of those reporting back pain, 21% said their pain lasted more than six months. About 16% said they had missed school, gym class, or after-school sports because of the pain, and almost 17% said they had seen a doctor for their back pain. Most students with back pain said the pain was recurrent.

According to, the back will compensate for any load applied to it for an extended period of time. The website also reports that heavy weight carried in backpacks can:

  • Distort the natural curves in the middle and lower backs, causing muscle strain and irritation to the spine joints and the rib cage
  • Lead to rounding of the shoulders
  • Cause a person to lean forward, reducing balance and making it easier to fall

Students who carry their backpack over one shoulder face issues as well. This habit will make muscles strain to compensate for the uneven weight. The spine leans to the opposite side, stressing the middle back, ribs, and lower back more on one side than the other. This type of muscle imbalance can cause muscle strain, muscle spasm, and back pain in the short term and speed the development of back problems later in life if not corrected.

How heavy is too heavy?
Research shows that, to avoid pain or potential injury, your child’s backpack should be no more than 10 to 20 percent of his/her body weight. If your child has back pain or numbness or weakness in the arms or legs, talk to your doctor or physical therapist.

So, what can a parent do to lessen the risk of back pain and distortion? WebMD suggests:

  • Use a rolling backpack.
  • Choose a backpack that ends above the waist, with padded shoulder straps and a belt.
  • Wear your backpack on both shoulders.
  • Pull the shoulder straps snug.
  • Place heavier books closest to the back.
  • Teach children to bend at the knees when lifting the backpack.
  • Get a second set of schoolbooks to keep at home.
  • Carry only what’s necessary each day.

Should schools be liable for heavy backpacks?
As we consider the physical strain that heavy backpacks can put on a child’s body, we consider school’s liability for the medical costs associated with treatment for children who experience back pain and related medical issues.

What do you think? Are heavy backpacks putting unnecessary strain on children and therefore, should schools be liable for associated medical bills? Or is carrying a heavy load of books just part of being a student? We’d love to hear what you think!

As always, if you have a question our legal team is here to help. Contact us today at 866-732-6700.

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