Backpacks Can Mean Backaches for Back-to-Schoolers

Dr. Joshua Hyman, Director, Pediatric Orthopedic Surgery at NewYork-Presbyterian/Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital, Offers Tips on Avoiding Injury from an Overstuffed Backpack

Aug 17, 2017

New York

With back-to-school quickly approaching, parents have already begun securing basic necessities like backpacks. Each year, millions of children return to school struggling under the weight of an overstuffed backpack. Heavy backpacks can put children at risk of injury, according to Dr. Joshua Hyman, orthopedic surgeon at NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital.

Dr. Hyman offers the following guidelines to help parents prevent potential back injuries from overweight backpacks:

  • A backpack shouldn’t weigh more than 15 percent of the child’s weight, or about seven pounds for a child who weighs 50 pounds. If textbooks are making the bag too heavy, parents should speak with the teacher — sometimes books can be left at school.
  • Children should wear their backpack over both shoulders to spread weight evenly. Alternatively, consider a wheeled backpack.
  • Be sure that the backpack is the correct size for your child. The backpack should not be wider or longer than the child’s torso, and should not hang more than 4 inches below the waistline. A backpack that hangs too low increases the weight on the shoulders, causing the child to lean forward when walking.
  • Be sure that the backpack has wide, padded shoulder straps and a padded back. The shoulder straps should be adjusted so the backpack can be fitted to your child’s body and a padded backing provides increased comfort and protects the child from being injured by the sharp edges on some school supplies.

“Parents should inspect their child’s backpack from time to time. They often carry much more than they should with extra shoes, toys, electronic devices and other unnecessary items,” says Dr. Hyman

If the child experiences persistent pain, parents should consult their pediatrician, who may recommend physical therapy to strengthen the back muscles. Some indicators of trouble include changes in the child’s posture while wearing the backpack, difficulty putting on the backpack, and pain, tingling or red marks.

NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital

NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital, located in New York City, offers the best available care in every area of pediatrics — including the most complex neonatal and critical care, and all areas of pediatric subspecialties — in a family-friendly and technologically advanced setting. Building a reputation for more than a century as one of the nation’s premier children’s hospitals, Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital is affiliated with the Department of Pediatrics at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, and is Manhattan’s only hospital dedicated solely to the care of children and one of the largest providers of children’s health services in the tri-state area with a long-standing commitment to its community. It is also a major international referral center, meeting the special needs of children from infancy through adolescence worldwide. NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital also comprises NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital Westchester Division, NewYork-Presbyterian The Allen Hospital and NewYork-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital. The hospital is also closely affiliated with NewYork-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital, NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital and NewYork-Presbyterian Queens. NewYork-Presbyterian is the #1 hospital in the New York metropolitan area, according to U.S. News & World Report, and consistently named to the magazine’s Honor Roll of best hospitals in the nation. For more information, visit

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