Weight Limit Recommendation in Backpack Use for School-Aged Children

Backpacks can be a heavy burden for school-aged children, and a literature review of studies of weight limit recommendations was discussed in the March 2014 issue of the Journal of Clinical Chiropractic Pediatrics by Dr. Valérie Lavigne, author, and chiropractor in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

The paper warns that children can experience back pain from their backpacks due to excessive weight in the backpacks, backpack design, how the backpack is worn on the back, and/or a lack of physical fitness. Educating children and adults on weight limits for backpacks and the proper way to wear a backpack can reduce back pain in children.

“Back pain in school-age children is becoming a common complaint, with a prevalence ranging from 30%-65%. Unfortunately, some evidence in the literature shows that children suffering from low back pain may still have pain into adulthood; therefore, prevention is becoming important,” according to Lavigne.

With 90 percent of school-aged children in developed countries wearing backpacks, the issue of weight limits has become a hot topic for parents, school administrators, and health professionals-including chiropractors. Studies report a wide range of weight in backpacks, and researchers believe that excessive weight could be the cause of reported back pain in children.

“Negrini and Carabalona (2002) reported that the average daily load of Italian students over a week ranged from 22% body weight (BW) to 27.5% BW with some students wearing backpacks weighing as much as 46% of their BW, exceeding the 30% bodyweight/load ratio proposed for physically fit adults.”

In addition, because children are growing, the spine can be easily injured which can result in postural deformities. Proper use of the backpack is critical during these growth stages in children.

Lavigne continues, “As well, it is shown that by adding weight to the back with a backpack, the center of gravity is shifted forward toward the rear of the base of support. Postural compensations are needed to maintain balance and functional motion during gait; however, with improper loading of backpacks these postural compensations can result in injuries to the child’s spine. Some of these compensations include an increased forward head carriage, an increase in forward lean of the trunk, as well as changes of pelvic positions and gait patters.”

Additional factors such as time wearing the backpack, and the child’s height in relation to the size of the backpack were considered as causal to back pain in school-aged children. “Backpacks have an influence on back pain in children and the weight limit should not exceed 10-15% of the child’s body weight,” Lavigne concluded.

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