Backpack Burden Hurts Students
Heavy backpacks continue to cause back problems

Going back to school can be hard on your child’s back. Heavy backpacks continue to cause increasing back problems for students of all ages. In fact, the Consumer Products Safety Commission reports that in 2003 there were more than 10,000 backpack-related injuries to kids ages 18 and under.

“You don’t see any of these children with small loads to carry,” says Stuart L. Weinstein, M.D., president of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. “I think it’s a setup for repetitive chronic back pain for a lifetime, because these children never learn proper back hygiene.”

Weinstein recommends that parents:

• purchase backpacks at sporting goods stores, where they can find quality packs that will properly distribute weight;

• teach kids to use both shoulder straps when wearing backpacks, rather than slinging the pack over one shoulder; and

• encourage their child’s school to help teach good back health by inviting an orthopedic surgeon to speak at health classes or assemblies.

Since kids don’t always follow good advice, however, the onus is on adults to help lighten backpack loads in the first place, Weinstein says. Physicians generally recommend that kids carry no more than 15 percent of their body weight in their backpacks, but that counsel isn’t easy for a child to follow.

“Children lead busy lives,” Weinstein says. “Most of them do what’s convenient and expedient at the time.” Schools should allow adequate time for students to visit lockers between classes so that they’re not always carrying fully loaded backpacks with them, he says. And teachers or parents should consider photocopying needed portions of textbooks for students so they don’t have to keep carrying entire books to and from school. (Be sure to check whether the copyright allows for this or arrange to get permission.)

Health Notes