If you've ever been concerned about the effects that extra weight might have on your child's still-growing body, your instincts are correct. Nearly 55 percent of students these days are carrying backpacks heavier than the recommended weight limit — that is, less than 10 to 15 percent of the child's body weight. Although kids may seem resilient to back and neck pain, it's extremely important to enforce restrictions on the weight our students carry in their backpacks.
Dr. Thomas Lawhorne, Orthopedic Surgeon with Fairview Park Hospital, explains that "wearing a heavy backpack over an extended period of time can lead to serious chronic back pain or injury." He emphasizes how important it is to choose the right backpack for your students and to follow the appropriate recommendations to help lower their risk of back or neck injury. In order to take the necessary precautions, be sure to encourage students to:
Limit the weight
Carry as few books as possible. If you can leave a few books behind, do so. Doctors recommend carrying no more than 10 to 15 percent of your body weight.
Use both straps to distribute weight evenly
Using only one shoulder strap on your backpack may cause you to lean to one side and apply unneeded pressure.
Stand up straight
If your backpack makes you hunch forward, you may be carrying too much weight. Check your posture to ensure that you are able to stand upright.
Take a break
When you can, leave your backpack in your locker and carry just what you need. This will give your back and neck a break from the strain of carrying extra weight.
Of the American students between the ages of 11 and 15, more than 60 percent stated they had back pain related to heavy backpacks, and 21 percent said the discomfort lasted for more than 6 months. "This is a growing problem that can be easily avoided if we just stop and make a few adjustments to the habits of our students," says Lawhorne.
The next time you move your child's backpack after he or she drops it by the door, check to see how heavy of a load it is carrying. "The first step to a healthy adult life is to take care of yourself while you're still young."