Is this weighing you down?

Is this weighing you down?

Heavy backpacks seem like just another part of a middle school or high school student’s day. But how heavy is too heavy when it comes to backpacks?

Carrying around a heavy backpack can lead to increased back pain, says Dr. Andrea Kramer, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill.

“Pick up an eighth grader’s backpack, and you can feel just how heavy it is,” says Dr. Kramer. “While pain from carrying a heavy backpack isn’t permanent, you want to reduce pain as much as possible.”

If you notice that your child is struggling to put their backpack on or that their shoulders are slumping forward and back is hunching while wearing it, those could be warning signs that the pack is too heavy. Dr. Kramer says even though kids now carry tablets instead of large textbooks, their backpacks often still weigh too much. She says patients report carrying everything they need with them throughout the school day to avoid stopping at their lockers between periods. Constantly toting their belongings around is taking its toll on their backs.

“The hope was that technology like tablets would allow them to leave textbooks at home, but they don’t always. It’s not only textbooks that add weight. Binders, notebooks and carrying lunches and gym clothes and shoes adds weight, too,” Dr. Kramer says.

Unfortunately, kids can’t just ditch their backpacks.

However, Dr. Kramer says there are some things kids and families can do to make carrying a heavy load more manageable. For starters, aim for the pack to weigh no more than 10% of a child’s body weight. When you’re back-to-school shopping, carefully consider which backpack you choose. A bigger backpack isn’t always better.

Find a backpack that fits everything a child needs, buts isn’t so spacious that he or she can fill it with unnecessary odds and ends that add extra weight. When packing the bag, Dr. Kramer says heaviest items should be packed closest to you.

“Talk to your kids about how to wear their backpack properly. They should be using both shoulder straps so the weight is evenly distributed across their back,” says Dr. Kramer. “The straps should also be adjusted so that the backpack lies securely to their back and doesn’t hang down too low. Kids should also consider using the hip belt to help hold the bag in place.”

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About the Author

Colette Harris
Colette Harris

Colette A. Harris, health enews contributor, is the public affairs and marketing coordinator at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Il. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism and has nearly a decade of experience writing about health and wellness, which are her passions. When she’s not writing, you can find her practicing yoga, cooking, reading, or traveling.