Learn more about safe backpack carrying weight

Maybe you once carried what felt like a locker on your back. Or maybe you’re a parent watching your child carrying a backpack that’s half their size. Either way, it’s a cause for concern: Back pain from backpacks is highly common.

Studies have shown that students’ workload increases substantially in the sixth grade and beyond. A Consumer Reports study found that the average weight of a sixth grader’s backpack is about 18 pounds. The heaviest backpack weighed was an alarming 30 pounds. So, when is a backpack heavy?

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Carrying excessive weight for five days a week can bring back and posture problems. Some of these might include:

  • Lower back or rib pain
  • Neck strain
  • Distortion or strain of natural spine curvature
  • Rounded shoulders
  • Upset balance

Doctors recommend that backpack weight should be between 10-15 percent of a person’s total body weight. If a 90-pound sixth grader carried 15 percent of their weight, the backpack should be no more than 13 pounds. An average for a 135-pound adult would be about 20 pounds.

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How to Wear a Backpack

When carrying a significant amount of weight, backpacks are still the best choice among bags. They distribute weight better than cross-body bags or purses. To wear a backpack correctly:

  • Use both shoulder straps. “Take that extra second to put it on both and resist running with it on one shoulder,” said Kevin Wong, MD, Westmoreland Family Medicine – UPMC
  • Tighten straps so the backpack is held higher than the waist
  • Use waist and shoulder clips to distribute weight

By distributing the weight, you prevent strain from being placed on a specific part of your body. This can help prevent posture problems and pain in your neck or lower back.

For more information, or to find a primary care doctors, visit www.UPMC.com/PCP or call 1-855-676-UPMCPCP.

If you find that you lean forward while carrying, or that your shoulders are rounded, your backpack may be too heavy. Take notice of your child’s posture as well.

Lightening the Load: Tips for Backpack Wearers

It’s extremely important to avoid regularly carrying more than 15 percent of your body weight. Children or smaller people are especially at risk because they typically carry heavier loads in proportion to their weight.

To lessen the weight, a child carrying a backpack could:

  • Purchase a wheeling backpack
  • Buy online textbooks
  • Keep two textbooks — one for home and one for school
  • Make photocopies of needed pages
  • Switch out books at lockers

If you are experiencing back pain from carrying a backpack, you should avoid using a backpack to prevent further strain. See your doctor about any severe pain that persists for longer than two days.


Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

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