Children's Health

Preventing pain from heavy backbacks

Is the weight of school textbooks weighing down your kids? Learn how you can prevent back pain and some other alternatives to help lighten the load


The school year has just started, but 16-year-old Isabella Artale, from New York, NY, is already suffering from neck and back pain, thanks to her overstuffed backpack.

“It’s like pulling at your muscles,” Isabella said.  “It’s like you’re being pushed back, but you’re trying to go forward at the same time.  My back’s hurting – it’s a lot of weight to carry.”

Dr. Jeff Goldstein, director of The Spine Service Division at New York University Medical Center, said parents would be surprised by the average weight of backpacks.

“We have recommendations of about 10 to 15 percent of your body weight,” Goldstein said. “So if your child is 100 pounds, that means [there should be] 10 to 15 pounds of weight in the backpack.”

However, Isabella said she normally carries around 20 to 25 pounds of weight in her backpack.  According to Goldstein, that’s double the weight she should be carrying.

Goldstein said this can cause muscle problems for her – and other students like her – because teenagers are still developing.

“If they walk around hunched over or slouched over, they develop poor posture…and pain in their neck,” Goldstein said. “Could it lead to degenerative changes? I suppose it could.”

He added the pain could also make it harder for students to concentrate in school and at home.

To prevent back pain, Goldstein recommended the following:

-Make sure the backpack has wide, padded shoulder straps

-Tighten the straps so the bag is close to the body

-Wear backpack straps on both shoulders

-Remove unnecessary items that could add excess weight

Students can also consider alternatives – like buying backpacks with wheels, keeping an extra set of textbooks at home or even investing in ‘new’ technology.

One program, called CourseSmart, allows students to access their textbooks from any computer, with options to print, highlight and search content.  There is even an app so students can gain access to their books on iPads or other mobile devices.

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