It’s a mainstay of nearly every child and teen who goes to school, but the backpack that is filled with books to strengthen the mind is often the cause of straining the student’s back. Dave Menatian, a physical therapist at South County Health, said that too often, the weight of books in a backpack puts undue strain on a child’s still-developing muscular and skeletal structure and could lead to back pain and other issues.
“A backpack, whether it’s worn for school or hiking, shouldn’t weigh any more than 10 to 15 percent of the person’s body weight,” Mr. Menatian said.
But that rule of thumb, he said, is often ignored – or not known – putting anyone who carries a backpack at risk of injury.
In addition to the weight of the backpack, Mr. Menatian said that children and adults often carry backpacks improperly, slung over one shoulder or hanging below the waistline, rather than distributing the weight evenly.
While the recommended weight of a full backpack is 10 to 15 percent of the person’s body weight, one survey found that most students carry backpacks that greatly exceed that recommendation. The resulting strain has the potential to damage the soft tissues of the shoulder, causing microstructural damage to the nerves and damage to internal organs. Other issues, such as curvature of the spine and compressed intervertebral height are also a potential risk from the heavy loads.“You’ll see children walking with their backpacks on, leaning forward to compensate for the excessive weight. That’s an unhealthy situation. If not corrected, the combination of excessive weight and poor posture could lead to serious injury now or misalign the growing skeletal structure to cause potential problems in their adult years,” he said.
In Rhode Island, the potential health impact of heavy backpacks is so prevalent that in January 2017 the Rhode Island Senate passed a resolution (2017 – S 0881) to urge school administrators, teachers, parents and students to become educated about the potential hazard.
Among the recommendations, the resolution encourages schools to use a hanging scale in the classroom where students and teachers can monitor and track backpack weight. The resolution also encourages students to be ergonomically correct when using a backpack.