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Injury Prevention

Your Child’s Backpack — Not Just A Fashion AccessoryImage of young boy and girl wearing backpacks

If a new backpack for your child is on your list of back-to-school supplies this year, you may want to consider this helpful advice when making your purchase. Not just another fashion accessory, there are real considerations that need to be made when selecting your child’s backpack. A backpack that does not fit properly, is used improperly, or simply too heavy to carry can cause neck, shoulder and back pain in your child.

Backpacks for elementary children should weigh between 5 and 10 pounds, while older students can usually handle a 15 to 20 pound backpack. An individual should carry no more that 15% of his/her weight in their pack.

The Canadian Physiotherapy Association (CPA) offers these recommendations in the selection and use of backpacks with the following features:

  1. The backpack should be fit to the person, not the person to the backpack. When choosing a backpack, it should not be oversized ‘to carry more’. The shoulder straps should fit comfortably and not dig in to the shoulders, allowing the arms to move freely; the bottom of the pack should rest in the contour of the lower back; and the pack should "sit" evenly in the middle of the back, not "sag down" toward the buttocks.
  2. When choosing a backpack, look for one made of lightweight materals, like canvas, to reduce the weight, and with many storage compartments to enable better storage and the ability to balance the weight of the contents throughout the entire pack. Place larger flat items closest to the back.
  3. Padded back — to reduce pressure and prevent the pack’s contents from digging into the back.
  4. Padded, contoured, shoulder and chest straps — to help reduce pressure and balance the weight. Backpacks should have thickly padded (2 inches wide), adjustable shoulder straps and an extra hip strap. The shoulder straps should be adjusted so the bottom of the pack sits two inches above the waist; The backpack should be worn using both straps and not carried over one shoulder. This can cause malalignment of the spine and muscle fatigue. It’s also very important that any long straps and buckles be tied or tucked in so as to avoid an entanglement hazard.
  5. Waist belt or hip strap (Optional) — to distribute some of the load to the pelvis. The waist belt sends the weight of the pack down through the legs, which are more used to carrying weight; and it will maintain the central position keeping the pack closer to the back.
  6. Compression straps — on the sides or bottom of the backpack to help compress the contents of the backpack and stabilize the articles.
  7. Reflective material — for visibility to drivers at night.

Another alternative is a backpack with wheels on it for easy transporting. These have become a popular option for children in elementary grades.

If your child or youth starts complaining about soreness in the shoulders, neck or back, you should begin by checking out the contents of the backpack to see if you can lighten the load in any way. It is also suggested to pack a child’s lunch in a separate lunch bag/box, which can be carried separately so as to avoid unnecessarily weighing down the backpack with excess weight. You should also ensure that the backpack is being worn properly. If pain persists, you shouldn’t hesitate to contact your family doctor or pediatrician. Prevention of the injury however is what you want to think about first and foremost!

So, with these important considerations top of mind — have fun shopping!

Here is another source which may be helpful for additional information:

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