Heavy backpacks mean trouble, doctors advise

Metro.us—August 18, 2013

Be careful about what you pack into your little tykes’ backpacks. Heavy backpacks can have serious medical implications, according to experts. Thousands of students arrive in local emergency rooms each year with backpack-related injuries.

Dr. John Blanco, pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery, spoke to us about keeping students’ spines safe. Many families might not think of what can happen when students’ backpacks are overloaded, he says.

But most of those kids come in complaining of back pain, and families often are worried about scoliosis, he says, which is not caused by weight like backpacks. But back pain can be, he said.

Many in the danger zone are middle- and high-school students, he says.

“They’re carrying around a 30-pound backpack all day long,” he says. He continues, “There are common-sense things that a lot of families don’t realize they can do to make a backpack more manageable for their child.”

Tips for watching your child’s back:

1. Know the suggested weights. The American Academy of Pediatrics keeps suggestions of how families should choose backpacks and how their children should wear them. “A lot of families just don’t have any idea of how a child should wear a backpack,” Blanco says. He suggests no more than 10 to 20 percent of a student’s body weight as a measure.

2. Straps matter. “Look for a backpack that has very wide, padded shoulder straps,” he says. “They should always have two shoulder straps, and tell your child to put their arms through both shoulder straps. You see a lot of kids that fling the backpack only on one shoulder. By having it on both shoulders, it distributes the weight better.” And that dorky waist strap? Use it. “By cinching the waist strip, it brings the backpack firmly against your body.”

3. Check out the actual backpack. “Some backpacks weigh a ton with nothing even in them,” he notes. “Find a light backpack that fits the bill.” Other alternatives? A rolling backpack, if your child doesn’t mind being one of the only students with one. Many students don’t want them, Blanco says, but, using them “means that they’re not putting any weight on their back at all.”

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