WASHINGTON – It is a relatively new phenomenon – kids hunched over from the weight of their school backpacks.
Doctors are already seeing some disturbing signs. Dr. Suzanne Groah, a spinal injury expert at the Medstar National Rehabilitation Hospital, says there has been a substantial increase in the number of kids going to doctors and even hospitals with back and neck pain.
She says the immediate impact of wearing heavy backpacks is clear, despite a lack of research data about the long-term risk of injury from them.
“Our kids are walking and moving around in a position that is just not natural,” she says. “It strains all the muscles up and down the spine.”
She says if a backpack is too heavy, children will start to flex their spine or neck forward.
“That means they are just not walking in a healthy way,” says Groah. “It’s likely because of too much weight on their back.”
So how much weight is too much? Groah says a good rule of thumb is to limit it to 10 to 15 percent of a child’s body weight. For a small child, that would mean no more than five pounds, including the weight of the backpack itself.
It is also important to make sure the backpack is positioned correctly. Wearing one with a padded strap on each shoulder is much better than either a backpack with one strap over one shoulder or a messenger bag.
“Wearing all the weight on one side very, very clearly will lead to an increased risk of strain on the muscles,” says Groah.
She also advises parents to make sure those straps are adjusted properly so the backpack does not droop too low, putting most of the weight around the waist.
Groah, the mother of two children ages 8 and 10, says her family’s solution to the problem is rolling backpacks. She says on nice days when her kids walk back and forth to school, their stuff travels on wheels.