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Are Kids Suffering from Backpack Back?

Some school children routinely carry a third of their weight on their backs. Here's some tips to lessen the pain.


Any parent who has ever lifted his or her child’s school backpack knows that it routinely violates the Zero Tolerance policy for weapons in school. Hitting someone with that 20-30 pound sack of textbooks could do some serious damage. That’s if you could lift it.

The question an Easton reader posed to me was this: Can a super heavy backpack injure a kid’s back? I took that inquiry to Dr. Mark Walter, a chiropractor with in Salisbury Township.

Walter said in 14 years of practice, he’s never treated a child who had permanent injuries from a backpack. But that might be because parents seek solutions before the pain can do long-term damage. 

“The utilization of a backpack not fitted or too heavy for young children would cause more acute immediate symptoms of back, shoulder, neck and possibly hip pain,” according to Walter.

In a 2004 study conducted by researchers with the University of California at Riverside, 64 percent of the approximately 3,500 school children surveyed reported pain from their heavy backpacks and 21 percent of those kids said the pain lasted more than six months.

“You don’t want a child to be carrying more than 10 percent of their body weight,” Walter said.

Unfortunately, that ship has sailed. It’s not unusual for a 70- or 80- pound kid to be carrying a 25-pound pack.

“But the problem isn’t just the weight but also how children carry the packs,” Walter said. “They don’t use the backpack appropriately. They sling it over one shoulder. You want to make sure it’s over both shoulders.”

(By the way, that’s the same for women with heavy purses. Instead of letting the bag hang off one shoulder, they should sling it so the strap goes across the body, distributing the weight more evenly.)

The backpack’s straps should be wide and padded.

“Make sure the pack isn’t bigger than the child’s torso,” Walter said. “You don’t want it hanging below the child’s waistline because it will stress the shoulders and back.”

A pack that has wheels so it can be rolled instead of carried would help but not all schools allow them. Also kids should be encouraged to bring home only the books they need for the night and, if necessary, carry some in their arms to balance the weight.

I don’t remember super heavy backpacks or book bags being as big of a problem 35 years ago when I was in school. But that might have been because textbooks weren’t as weighty then.

According to an ABC news report, the average textbook 40 years ago weighed less than two pounds. Today it’s five pounds.

There could be another, indirect health risk: seeing their kids struggling with heavy backpacks may well cause parents to drive them to school, taking away a good source of exercise. 

The last thing kids need is another reason to be chauffeured instead of walking.

Mary Ellen Alu March 08, 2012 at 03:01 PM
Some days my 6-year-old's backpack is so heavy that I think she will tumble backwards as she climbs the steps of the bus. And that's just with library books and her lunch!
BethTwp March 08, 2012 at 06:49 PM
Wait until they get into middle and high school...and the books get bigger and heavier.
Nicole Roeder March 09, 2012 at 01:34 AM
All the more reason to go to tablet computers, eReaders and eBooks! Let's let all this new technology do its job!
WILFREDO G. SALCEDO, Sr. March 11, 2012 at 11:29 AM
A convenient alternative would be one of those push/pull carriers we use in airports...Can't be caught dead lugging one of those?..Then backpack it is.


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