As another school year approaches  – the big topic that frequently comes up for Annapolis parents is regarding the use of backpacks.

Chiropractors, pediatricians and orthopedic surgeons alike agree that backpacks are a problem for your child’s spine.  Though they may not pose an immediate threat, overloading and improper use of a backpack can potentially lead to neck and shoulder pain in addition to lower back pain.

Additionally, postural compensations resulting from carrying heavy loads are causing what chiropractors term repetitive stress injury to many children. These postural imbalances appear to be most significant amongst pre pubescent female students due to the heavy load required to carry at that age and the sensitivity of their developing spines.  What many fail to recognize are the implications that these postural distortions have on nerve system function for these distortions tend to stress the nervous system.  With a stressed nervous system comes numerous bodily functions that can be adversely affected leading to a wide array of health concerns.

So, how heavy is TOO HEAVY?

An exact weight is difficult for healthcare professionals to agree upon, but the general consensus is that a child’s backpack should not exceed more than 10% of their body weight.  If a child’s backpack exceeds 15% of the body weight it can lead to severe back, neck and shoulder pain as well as headaches and other spinal discomforts, not to mention aggravating pre-existing spinal conditions such as scoliosis.

Then, how do we lighten the load?

To ensure that your child’s backpack is the adequate weight, you should try and weigh it once a week.  In the event that you find that it is too much, just take a moment to lighten the load.   You may see that they are transporting a book that they can do without for that day, or maybe there is some sporting equipment in there that they won’t need until after school.  If they won’t be needing some items until they are done with school, be willing to bring those things to them at the end of the school day.  If taking ten pounds out of their backpack will avoid added pain and discomfort in your children then it’s worth the ten minutes out of your busy day.


  • Wear both straps and avoid the one-strap styled backpacks. Uneven distribution of the load causes postural compensations and spinal stress.
  • When putting on and removing backpacks, bend at the knees or have the pack at a higher level such as on a desk or table. Sudden twisting motion adds to the potential of injury.
  • Arrange the backpack so it rests evenly in the middle of the back. Shoulder straps should be adjusted to allow the child to put on and take off the backpack without difficulty and permit free movement of the arms. Straps should not be too loose, and the backpack should not extend below the lower back.
  • Keep the load at 10-15% or less of the student’s body weight. Carry only those items that are required for the day. Request additional textbooks to be kept at home instead of hauling heavy books to and from school.
  • Organize the contents of the backpack by placing the heaviest items closest to the back.

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