WOOD-RIDGE, NJ - Welcome to backpack overload.  Take pens, pencils, erasers, scissors, pencil case, glue stick, ruler, crayons, composition books, and a homework folder. Middle or high students can throw in additional items like an agenda, highlighters, folders, note cards, a calculator, multiple binders, and maybe even a laptop. And don't forget textbooks. Then put them all in one backpack.

By the time kids pack up their backpack for the new school year, it could weight upwards of 30 to 40 pounds that a student is carrying on his/her back. 

"Kids are carrying more and more weight in their backpacks," said Dr. Aylin Mahmut of Get Well Physical Therapy. "They just don't pack for the school day, but pack for their whole day, including activities in the afternoon."

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Mahmut said according to studies, between 10 to 15% of a student's body weight "is a safe amount" to carry in the backpack.

"Anything past that is putting excessive stress of their neck and back, putting them in bad posture because they're trying to constantly pull that weight," said the Wood-Ridge physical therapist. "They're compressing their spines, which leads to a lot of other problems."

Mahmut suggests that parents first weigh their child. Then have the student step back onto the scale with the backpack fully loaded and ready for school to see how much that is.  Also, parents should look at the child from the side and check the alignment. She said the "head, shoulders, hips, and ankles" should be in alignment when carrying a backpack.

Parents can then determine what to leave at school, in a cubbie, desk, or locker, or leave at home.

"Carrying that heavy backpacks is really hurting kids," she said. "They are leading with their necks out beause they're trying to pull that load because it's very heavy for them."

Mahmut said carrying a heavy and overloaded backpack can lead to neck pain, tension headaches, possible vision problems, and issues sitting in school or at home doing homework. It can even cause problems with other activities like sports and sleeping. 

"People don't link the two," she said. "This backpack problem creates a foundation for the kids to be hurt easily."

How can parents help lighten the load?

Mahmut offered several suggestions to help ease the load that students carry.

  • Use a rolling backpack.
  • Select a lighter backpack. Find one with wider straps. Some have gel pads in the straps for additional comfort. Some have a chest strap and clip for additional support.
  • Properly size the backpack. Make sure it sits properly in the middle of the back, not hanging below the small of the back and on the butt.
  • Use school lockers to keep sneakers, clothing, or other school items in school.
  • Consider using a drawstring bag during the day and use a backpack to bring items home.
  • Always carry a backpack on both shoulders, not on one side.


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