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Are Backpacks Harmful? A guide for how to pick and fit the right backpack for your child

Download your copy of PrimeSpine Backpack Facts here.

As we swarm the stores to buy our kids all of their back-to-school supplies, most well-meaning parents don’t give a whole lot of thought to what kind of backpack to buy… at least not from an ergonomic standpoint. Buying decisions are usually based on how a backpack looks, its price, what color it is, or the brand name without necessarily focusing on how it will affect their child’s body. Sometimes, they even let their kids make the decision.

Does a backpack really make a difference? Absolutely.

Are backpacks harmful? Not necessarily.

You see, human beings are designed to be bipedal and move around while standing upright. It should also come as no surprise that we’re also designed to walk around while carrying things, whether it’s on our back, shoulder, even on our heads. A good backpack supports our natural posture and movement, but the wrong backpack absolutely CAN hinder proper posture and movement… and can even hurt your child.

It’s important to note that we’re talking about a young body that is still growing and developing and that makes them more susceptible to environmental stress.

The highest rate of growth occurs around puberty (around ages 8-13 for girls, and ages 10-15 for boys) and it needs to be mentioned that these age groups are also the ones toting the heaviest packs relative to their body weight. That extra weight in the pack can – and does – influence the growth and development of the body. This can lead to permanent postural changes.

So we as parents need to take into consideration whether or not a backpack actually fits our kids properly. It’s our job as parents to try and bridge that gap between what our kids want and what they need. 

Are kids wearing their backpack the right way?

A backpack that’s too heavy will shift your child’s center of gravity behind them, which will try to pull your child backward. The body will try to adapt to this and balance itself out by shifting forward. 

Not only does this increase their chances of falling or losing their balance, it affects the way the walk and the forces their body has to deal with while they’re walking. This tends to get worse as the day goes on and they get fatigued.

-  More than 55% of kids surveyed carry a backpack that’s too heavy for them. 

- 60% of those kids who carry a backpack that’s too heavy will experience some form of back pain.

- In a 2012 survey, 1 in 4 students reported they experienced significant back pain during their school year.

- While I am happy to help kids who are hurting, I would much rather prevent pain in the first place.

If your child's head is sticking too far forward, the pack is too heavy and is putting too much stress on the back and shoulders. This can result in damage to their spine, as well as their spinal cord or nervous system.

Importance of wearing a backpack properly:

You need to check your child’s posture while they are wearing their loaded backpack. Here are a few things you want to see:

  • The hole in their ear should be directly over the center of their shoulder
  • Their shoulder should be directly over the center of their hip
  • When looking at your child from the front, both shoulders should be level. If they carry their backpack over one shoulder, it can cause one shoulder to be higher than the other… even when they aren’t carrying their backpack!

How to Wear a Backpack

-Never more than 15% of your child’s body weight in their backpack. Aim for 10%.

-Only put the items you need that day in the backpack.

-Place the heaviest items low and closest to the back.

-Use both shoulder straps, and the waist strap if walking far.

-It should fit firmly against the back… no gaps should be visible.

-It should not hang more than a few inches below the waistline.

How to Pick a Backpack:

-No larger than your child’s torso

-Made of lightweight material

-Smallest size that will get the job done

-Multiple compartments, symmetrically-placed

-Wide, adjustable shoulder straps and a waist strap

-Sufficient padding in the back of the backpack

Warning Signs to Watch For:

-Back pain or neck pain


-Pain in or between the shoulders

-Numbness/tingling in arms or hands

-Struggles to take pack on & off

-Standing/sitting with poor posture

Young kids should never have back or neck pain, but we’re seeing a trend where more and more children are. It’s almost always traced back to their school backpacks.

There is also a correlation in the research that shows that the longer a child wears a backpack during their day, the more likely there will be postural distortions in the spine.

Many schools are now removing lockers from campuses as a safety precaution, forcing kids to carry a locker’s worth of material on their backs from class to class, all day long.

If you have any questions, or would like us to check your child's backpack free of charge, call our office today at 205-414-7895.