Diseases & Conditions
The popularity of carrying books in a backpack is almost universal in American schools, but overloading the packs can be harmful. Some studies have shown that as many as half of all teenagers suffer from back pain, which may be caused by the improper use of backpacks. While many factors may cause back pain, such as increased level of competition in sports, poor posture while sitting, and long periods of inactivity, far too many children are also carrying backpacks that exceed 15 percent of the child’s body weight. Therefore, a 60-pound child should carry no more than nine pounds of books on the back.
Backpacks can be a helpful tool if they are used properly, since they can help children stay organized while toting their books and papers from home to school and back again. Compared to shoulder bags or purses, backpacks are better because the strongest muscles in the body, the back and the abdominal muscles, support the weight of the pack. Because the weight is evenly distributed across the child’s body, shoulder and neck injuries are less common than if the child carried a briefcase.
When a backpack is too heavy, the child arches the back or leans the head and body forward to compensate for the weight of the bag. This stresses the muscles in the neck and back, increasing the risk of injury. Using only one strap, as many youngsters do, affects the spine’s natural shock absorption abilities.
Most doctors and physical therapists recommend that children carry no more than 10 percent to 15 percent of their body weight in their packs.
Girls and younger children may be especially at risk for backpack-related injuries because they are smaller and may carry loads that are heavier in proportion to their body weight.
A backpack is too heavy if the child has to struggle to get a backpack on or off, has back pain, has to lean forward to carry a pack, or has numbness or weakness in arms or legs.
The safest backpack has two wide, padded straps that go over the shoulders, a padded waist or chest belt to distribute weight more evenly across the body, multiple compartments to distribute the weight of the load, and is not wider than the child’s body. Backpacks with a metal frame are a good choice, but many lockers will not accommodate a pack that large. No matter how well designed the backpack, children need to keep the backpack loads reasonable.
Newest backpacks have wheels and allow students to roll, rather than carry, books and other materials.
A child should be encouraged to visit a locker or desk often throughout the day instead of carrying the entire day’s worth of books in a backpack. Children should not carry unnecessary items such as laptops, CD players, and video games. If a child does have to carry something heavy in the pack, it should be placed closer to the back of the pack, next to the body.
As with any heavy weight, a child should bend at the knees and grab the pack with both hands when lifting it to his shoulders. Another way to prevent back injury is to strengthen the stabilizing muscles in the lower back and abdomen. Weight training and yoga can help strengthen the core muscles.