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Do Backpacks Equal Back Pain?

Over the years, textbooks have gotten bigger and heavier, resulting in heavier and heavier backpacks.  Parents have expressed concern that this trend might cause back problems in children.  This concern is entirely justifiable.

In a large study, over 33% of children between the ages of 11 and 14 years old noted back pain.  The students that carried heavier backpacks reported more back pain than those that carried a lighter load.  Heavy backpacks are believed to increase lumbar disk compression, lumbar curvature, and muscle fatigue, all of which may lead to back pain.

What can be done to minimize the risk that backpacks will cause back pain?  Choosing the right backpack can make a big difference.  The ideal backpack would have two wide, well-padded shoulder straps as well as a waist strap.  It would also be lightweight and well-padded along the back.

The ideal backpack would make a difference, but it is not a substitute for using the proper carrying technique.  Both shoulder straps should be used to allow better distribution of the weight.  The weight itself should not exceed 10-15% of the student’s body weight.  The straps should be tightened to carry the weight as close to the body as possible and it is important to bend at the hips and knees when lifting the backpack or bending while wearing a backpack.  These techniques will help relieve some of the stress put on the back.  Back strengthening exercises are also helpful because they can build muscles and make it easier to carry the load.

Here are a few more tips to minimize back problems.  Students can carry less weight by only carrying the essentials in their backpack.  Frequent stops at the school locker can also help lighten the load.  Using a rolling backpack is also a good strategy for minimizing the amount of time the weight has to be carried.  Buying a second set of books to keep at home or purchasing electronic books is an excellent way of permanently reducing the load for students.