Pack it Light

Wear it Right.

It’s common for kids to lug around backpacks appearing to be twice their body weight. Though it may seem cool to sling a heavy load over one shoulder – long-term head, neck, and shoulder pain are not. Here are some helpful tips that will help your child carry his or her backpack with ease.

Research indicates that there are long-term health risks associated with youth who wear poorly designed backpacks or carry too much weight. In fact, over 50% of Canadian youth will suffer at least one back pain episode during their school years. Not only are these injuries painful, they can directly impact the enjoyment of leisure and sports activities that are a critical part of a young person’s life.

How Much Weight is Too Much?

The chart below is a guideline on the maximum weight your child (or you) should carry in their backpack. The general rule is no more than 15% of the student’s body weight or 10% for younger kids.

If you weigh…Only carry…
50 lbs5 lbs
70 lbs7 lbs
90 lbs14 lbs
110 lbs16 lbs
130 lbs19 lbs
150 lbs22 lbs
170 lbs25 lbs
190 lbs28 lbs

Resources for Parents and Educators

The British Columbia Chiropractic Association is concerned with an alarming trend in avoidable injuries and is teaming up with educators throughout the province to reinforce the “Pack it Light, Wear it Right” backpack safety program.

We are reaching out to parents and teachers across the province to ensure that students have the tools and information to stay healthy and prevent injury. These materials are free for distribution.

We also offer a complimentary speaker service in which a chiropractor from your local area can be made available to speak to students, parents, and teachers at your school. Please contact us if you wish to request a speaker or printed copies of "Pack it Light, Wear it Right" materials.

10 Tips for a Healthy Back

  1. Exercise regularly.
  2. Follow a healthy diet.
  3. Maintain good posture.
  4. Warm up and cool down before and after physical activity.
  5. Don't overload your backpack or shoulder bag.
  6. Stretch your legs and back after each hour of sitting.
  7. Never cradle the phone between your neck and shoulder.
  8. Sleep on your back or side, not on your stomach.
  9. Invest in a good chair, pillow, and mattress.
  10. Have regular spinal check ups. 

Carrying a heavy backpack is a spinal hazard and, over time, may lead to altered posture and gait.

Backpacks & Your Child's Health

Carrying a heavy load can lead to poor posture and a distorted spinal column. Over time this can cause muscle strain, headaches, neck and arm pain, and even nerve damage. 

A heavy backpack carried on one shoulder forces the muscles and spine to compensate for the uneven weight. This places stress on the mid and lower back.

Choosing the Right Backpack

You don't need to spend a lot of money to get a good backpack. Here are some tips that may be helpful when selecting a backpack:

  • Backpacks should be made of lightweight materials. Vinyl and canvas are much better than leather.
  • Pick a backpack with two wide shoulder straps. These distribute weight better than bags that are slung over the shoulder.
  • Try the backpack on for fit. The straps should be at least 2 inches wide and should not fit too snugly around the shoulders or armpits. 
  • The backpack should be proportionate to the wearer. The top should not extend higher than the top of the shoulder and the bottom should not fall below the top of the hipbone.
  • Choose a pack with a hip strap or waist belt and a padded back. A strap or belt can take as much as 50-70% of the weight off the shoulders and spine and will equalize the strain on the bones, joints, and muscles.
  • Choose a backpack with a lot of pockets to help distribute weight more effectively. 

Choose a light weight backpack with a padded back, wide shoulder straps, and a hip or waist belt. Make sure the pack is proportionate to the wearer.

Packing the Backpack Properly

  • Your child's backpack should only contain what is needed for that day.
  • A full backpack should be no more than 10 to 15 percent of the wearer's body weight.
  • Place the heaviest objects close to the body and light or odd-shaped objects away from the back.

Research indicates that during the teenage years more than 50 percent of young people will experience at least one episode of lower back pain. If your child complains of back pain and numbness or weakness in their arms and legs, consult a chiropractor for an evaluation.

Putting the Backpack On

  • Place the backpack on a flat surface and slip on the backpack one shoulder at a time, adjust the straps to fit comfortably.
  • When lifting the backpack use both arms and legs and bend at the knees - give young children a hand.

Wearing the Backpack

  • Backpacks should never be worn over only one shoulder - this can result in neck, shoulder, and back pain.
  • Both shoulder straps should be used and adjusted so the backpack sits flush against the back
  • Test the fit of the backpack by sliding your hand between the backpack and your child's back - if you can't slide your hand in, the backpack is too snug.

Backpack DOs and DON'Ts

  • DON'T sling your backpack on one side.
  • DO wear both straps and adjust them so that the pack fits snugly.
  • DO use the waist strap. It reduces the strain on your back.
  • DON'T carry your backpack too low: this can cause you to lean forward and puts the weight on your upper back.