The Lowdown on Low Back Pain
(and Other Aches)


Are backpacks bad for kids?

It is not clear if backpacks are bad for children or that they cause back problems.

Back pain is unusual in children. Several recent research studies have, however, shown an association between backpack use and back pain. Because of this, some doctors are recommending that young people avoid carrying heavy backpacks. Other studies note that children rarely visit emergency rooms for injuries related to back packs. When kids are injured by backpacks, it is more likely that they are hurt tripping over the pack, or being hit with a backpack, than from carrying one. A scientific study, looking at 11- to 14-year-olds in Great Britain, showed no relationship between back pain and backpacks. A study of 11- to 15-year-olds in Canada showed that back pain was more frequently related to rapid growth spurts, smoking, doing heavy work, and leg injuries.

Even though injuries from carrying backpacks may be rare, several common sense recommendations have been published. Backpacks should probably weight no more than about ten to twenty percent of a child’s total body weight (for example, ten to twenty pounds for a 100 pound child). The safest backpacks are probably those that have a waist strap. The waist strap transfers the load to the hips. Backpacks are still probably safer than carrying heavy books in the arms or in a bag hung on one shoulder.

If you child has back pain, it is important to rule out a more serious problem, such as scoliosis. Either a pediatrician or a spine specialist should check your son or daughter for any backache that lasts for more than a few days.



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Last modified: 07/27/08