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Ask Dr. Nandi: Backpacks Shouldn't Be a Back-to-School Burden on Health

Posted: 11:12 AM, Aug 27, 2019
Updated: 2019-08-27 11:12:33-04

While school has started for some families, many will return next week. One thing parents should make sure of is that your child’s backpack is not overloaded or it could affect their health.

Question: What issues can kids have with heavy backpacks?

It’s a bit surprising to see what some students are expected to carry. And I know that backpacks can get pretty heavy as I’ve seen this with my own children. Now you might think heavy backpacks are not a big deal, you might even believe they’ll help build muscles, but check this out! Last year almost 51,000 people were treated for injuries due to backpacks. And kids in particular, can suffer from back, neck and shoulder pain. They could also end up with injured muscles and joints.

Question: How much weight is too much?

For healthy kids, a backpack should not weigh more than 10 to 20 percent of their total body weight. But weight is not the only criteria here, how the backpack is worn can also be a problem. Students who sling it over one shoulder can end up straining their muscles. Plus the curvature of their spine may also be affected. So it’s important that both shoulder straps are used, and that they’re snug and close to the body. The backpack should not hang low, you want the bottom to sit at the waist. And any heavy items should be packed first and placed in the center of the bag. Also, show your kids how to bend at the knee when lifting as this can help them avoid back injuries.

Question: How will children know if they are having issues? What symptoms should they look for?

Symptoms that indicate something is wrong are things like tingling, numbness, or pain or discomfort in the back, shoulders, arms or legs. Be sure your child knows that you want to hear if they are experiencing any of these symptoms, and then I recommend you talk to your family doctor about how to treat any issues caused by backpacks. If you feel too much is being sent home on a regular basis, you can also talk to your child’s school about lightening the load.