Maintaining a Healthy Back: How Heavy Should My Backpack Be?

By the time they reach their teenage years, nearly two out of five children will have experienced lower back pain.

There are a lot of reasons why kids are struggling with low back pain these days.

One of the main culprits, though, is the fact that they’re carrying around backpacks that are way too heavy for them. This same problem can also affect adults who carry backpacks.

Have you ever wondered, “how heavy should my backpack be?”

It doesn’t matter if you’re an adult dealing with achy shoulders and a stiff back or if you’re a parent who wants their child to avoid these symptoms.

Here are some useful guidelines to help you determine whether or not your backpack is weighing you down.

Risks of a Too-Heavy Backpack

What happens when you carry around a too-heavy backpack day in and day out? A lot, actually.

The following are some common health issues (that can affect both children and adults) experienced by folks who wear heavy backpacks on a regular basis:

  • A strain of the muscles in the neck, shoulders, or back
  • Chronically poor posture caused by weakened muscles and compensatory movements (leaning forward to support the weight of the backpack)
  • Poor balance and an increased risk of falling and injuring oneself

Clearly, there’s a lot that can go wrong if someone is walking around day after day with a heavy backpack. These issues often come on gradually, too, so it can sometimes be hard to make the connection that the backpack is the problem.

Symptoms of a Too-Heavy Backpack

If you’re an adult, it’s probably pretty easy for you to tell if your backpack is too heavy. If you have to strain to hoist it onto your shoulders every day, you’re probably carrying too much weight.

With children, though, it can be hard to tell if they’re lugging around a bag that’s too heavy for them. Here are some signs you ought to be looking out for if you suspect your child is carrying too much weight:

  • They have a difficult time putting on or taking off their backpack
  • They’re complaining of pain 
  • They’re complaining of tingling or numbness in their arms or hands
  • They have visible strap marks on their shoulders
  • Their posture changes when they wear their backpack (their shoulders round and head protrudes forward)

If your child has poor posture even when their backpack is off, that’s another sign that it’s too heavy and is starting to have a seriously negative effect.

How Heavy Should My Backpack Be?

Okay, you’re aware of the ways that a too-heavy backpack can cause back pain. But, what are you supposed to do about it? How heavy should a backpack actually be?

As a general rule of thumb, it’s a good idea for a backpack to weigh no more than ten percent of your total body weight. If you weigh 120 pounds, your backpack should weigh no more than 12 pounds.

Lots of children are hauling around backpacks that weigh way more than this.

The average textbook can weigh anywhere from 2-3 pounds (if not more). If your child has three or four in their backpack at once, that’s a lot of extra weight to carry with them throughout the day.

Lightening Your Load

How can you lighten the load on your shoulders or your child’s shoulders? What can you do to offset the effects of a too-heavy backpack?

The good news is that there are lots of steps you can take to prevent future back pain and damage brought on by a too-heavy backpack. Here are some steps to help you and your child practice proper backpack safety:

Invest in a New Backpack

Whether your child prefers custom drawstring bags or a more basic model, you might want to consider purchasing a new backpack for them.

This is especially true if their old one seems to be too big. The more space kids have to work with, the more they’ll try to fit in their backpack, resulting in a too-heavy load.

When you’re shopping for a new backpack for your child (or yourself), be sure to check that it features the following traits:

  • Lightweight
  • Made with two wide and padded straps
  • A padded back for additional comfort
  • A waist belt that helps to distribute weight evenly

The backpack also ought to have multiple compartments. These help with weight distribution.

Pack it Properly

Next, you need to make sure you’re packing your backpack or your child’s backpack properly.

Store heavy items close the center and back of the bag. Keep lighter items out toward the front. Secure items in their compartments so they don’t shift around while walking.

It’s a good idea to weigh the backpack before you put it on to make sure it’s in line with the 10 percent rule.

If it weighs more than ten percent of your body weight, take an item or two out and carry it or consider leaving it at home.

Wear It the Right Way

Make sure you’re wearing your backpack correctly, too. The same goes for your child.

When you go to put the backpack on, you should lift with your legs while bending at the knees. Don’t round your spine to reach down and pick it up.

You should be able to lift the backpack onto your back with your arms — no swinging it and using momentum to get in on your back.

Wear one strap on each shoulder to keep your posture even. Adjust the straps, too, to make sure the backpack doesn’t sit below the hip bones.

Need More Health Information?

Walking around with a too-heavy backpack can lead to all kinds of back and neck problems.

Even if you feel fine now, if you’re carrying around a backpack loaded with books, papers, and other items, you may find in the near future that your back starts to ache.

To avoid future back pain and all the inconveniences that come with it, it’s important to ask yourself questions like, “how heavy should my backpack be?” and “is my backpack too heavy?”

Once you’ve answered these questions, you can make adjustments to keep your spine healthy and safe.

Are you interested in learning more about preventative measures you can take for your spine health (and overall health)? If so, be sure to check out the Health & Wellness section of our website for more helpful articles.

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