Three phone books - that's just about how much weight children carry in their backpacks every school day. They used to be for carrying books and lunches. When you add portable video games, gym clothes, and designer school supplies, though, backpacks are just too heavy for most kids.

Many backpacks that appeal to children are ill-designed for the task at hand—carrying a day's worth of school books, supplies, gym clothes, and myriad kid treasures. They may have the right movie character, but none of the proper padding and support to keep children from developing chronic problems with their backs.

"The numbers of kids with back pain is becoming staggering," says Dr. Lee Anne O’Brien, a pediatrician at Southern Hills Medical Center. "Backpacks are not the only reason, but we need to be very conscious. We're seeing so much more chronic back pain in young people. It's the number one disability in this country."

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) surveyed orthopedists about back problems related to backpacks. More than 70% of those surveyed said the extra weight can lead to medical problems for kids, with muscle fatigue and strain at the top of the list. They also concluded that a backpack could injure a child if the weight of its contents adds up to more than 20% of his or her body weight. Most doctors recommend that a pack does not exceed 10%-15% of the child's body weight.

Dr. O’Brien offers the following tips for children who are using back packs:


  • Use both of the backpack's straps, firmly tightened, to hold the pack two inches above your waist.
  • Tighten the straps so the top is just below the base of the head. When packs are carried low on the back, near the buttocks, it weighs down the spine.
  • Use the correct lifting techniques. Bend with both knees when picking up a heavy back pack.
  • Place the heaviest items close to your back.


  • Remember that a backpack's weight should not exceed 20% of your child's body weight, and even less for a young child.
  • Select a backpack with padded, wide straps and a padded back.
  • Use a hip strap for heavier weights.
  • Consider purchasing a backpack with wheels, or a pack with an internal frame.
  • Consider purchasing a second set of books for home.
  • Buy the smallest backpack possible.
  • Clean out your child's backpack once a week.
  • Talk to your child's teacher about sending home only what is absolutely necessary.


To learn more about children’s health concerns, visit and click on Southern Hills, or call TriStar MedLine at 615-342-1919.