As kids prepare to head back to school, doctors reveal heavy backpacks have to go

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When it comes to your child’s backpack for school this year, experts are saying, “Lighten the load!” 

Health experts told Fox News Digital that it is important parents be sure they’re not sending their kids back to school with heavy, overweight book bags for this new school year, since heavy backpacks take more of a toll than many people may realize. 

How much of a toll? 

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says an estimated annual average of 7,500 kids under 19 years old were treated in emergency rooms for injuries related to backpacks from 2017 to 2019. 

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One parent of a 12-year-old girl told Fox News Digital that her daughter was complaining for months about upper back and neck pain. 

Health experts said parents and guardians should be looking for warning signs that their child’s backpack is too heavy.

Health experts said parents and guardians should be looking for warning signs that their child’s backpack is too heavy.
(iStock)

At first, the Long Island, N.Y.-based mom thought her daughter’s aches and pains were due to her sports activities. 

But once they saw their physician, the mom learned her daughter’s backpack was the culprit.

“She was picking up a backpack of books and going from classroom to classroom throughout the day and then carrying the bag to and from school. That’s a lot of lifting,” the mom told Fox News Digital.  

“She was picking up a backpack of books and going from classroom to classroom throughout the day and then carrying the bag to and from school.”

Her daughter had to attend several weeks of sessions that included osteopathic manipulation to her spine for her neck and upper back strains.

She also had to start an exercise routine to strengthen her upper back to help support the load of the backpack. 

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Health experts said that parents and guardians should look for the following warning signs that a child’s backpack is too heavy. 

Child appears to be struggling while putting on backpack or taking it off

Child’s posture changes (i.e. he or she leans forward or to the side) when wearing backpack

Heavy backpacks send thousands of kids to the ER each year with back and neck pain, said the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. 

Heavy backpacks send thousands of kids to the ER each year with back and neck pain, said the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. 
(iStock)

Child experiences tingling or numbness in the arms and legs

Child has red marks on the shoulders from the backpack straps

Child complains of pain when wearing the backpack

Dr. David Gentile is an osteopathic physician who deals with spinal health issues in his patients at his practice in Rocky Point, New York. 

Heavy backpacks can change the natural curve of the spine, affecting the child’s ability to maintain an ideal posture.

The physician told Fox News Digital about the impact heavy backpacks have on a student’s posture — and said heavy backpacks can change the natural curve of the spine, affecting the child’s ability to maintain an ideal posture. 

“We see it all the time in the older generation — the use of comfortable chairs at work, the sit-stand desks,” he said.

So “it’s evident we have become more aware of proper work ergonomics. Now it might be time to really educate children about these comfortable and functional changes to improve their health outcomes,” said Gentile.

Children run toward their school bus. All too often, kids' backpacks seem like an innocent back-to-school item, suggested one doctor; yet heavy backpacks can create medical issues with youngsters' spines and necks. 

Children run toward their school bus. All too often, kids’ backpacks seem like an innocent back-to-school item, suggested one doctor; yet heavy backpacks can create medical issues with youngsters’ spines and necks. 
(iStock)

The physician also said there should be a public health action to be proactive and prevent this pain in children. 

Gentile said as well, “There are many ways to alleviate this unfortunate reality of back pain in young children, starting by identifying predisposing factors early on.”

He added, “The implementation of physical therapists in physical education classes and educating teachers, administrators, children and their families on appropriate ergonomics could all be beneficial.”

“It may not be so much which backpack to select as much as proper fit and proper load.”

Edward Farrell, co-founder and Partner of Physical Solutions Physical Therapy in Bethpage, N.Y., told Fox News Digital that a backpack may seem an innocent back-to-school item — but it certainly can be a culprit when it comes to creating issues with a youngster’s spine. 

“It may not be so much which backpack to select as much as proper fit and proper load,” he said. 

A young student wearing a backpack walks to school. Students should carry a lighter pack, use both shoulder straps and select a backpack with wide shoulder straps, one doctor told Fox News Digital.  

A young student wearing a backpack walks to school. Students should carry a lighter pack, use both shoulder straps and select a backpack with wide shoulder straps, one doctor told Fox News Digital.  
(iStock)

“Our kids are often strategizing the navigation of the hallways, locker to classrooms, with as few stops as possible to their locker, if they even stop at their locker at all.” 

Farrell, who is also a certified strength and conditioning specialist, said a backpack overloaded with books, especially if it weighs a good percentage of a student’s bodyweight, can lead to potential issues. 

“Imagine a 100-pound child carrying a 30-pound backpack all day,” Farrell said.

“The heavy load of many books can cause the students to lean forward and have rounded shoulders, increased thoracic kyphosis and a protracted cervical spine.”

He also said the problem is further compounded when students sling the backpack over one shoulder, which can lead to imbalanced weight on the spine, muscle strain, shoulder injury and possibly even a functional scoliosis in extreme cases. 

“Even with proper use — [meaning kids are] carrying the pack over both shoulders as the design intended — the heavy load of many books can cause the students to lean forward and have rounded shoulders, increased thoracic kyphosis and a protracted cervical spine,” Farrell said.

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Students should carry a lighter pack, use both shoulder straps and select a backpack with wide shoulder straps to disperse the load across the shoulders and neck, Farrell said.

A physical therapist advised students to keep the weight down in their backpacks, even if it means making multiple trips to their lockers during the school day. 

A physical therapist advised students to keep the weight down in their backpacks, even if it means making multiple trips to their lockers during the school day. 
(iStock)

He added, “More importantly, maintain good posture — chest up and stand tall.”  

Bill Schwarz, a physical therapist at The Schwarz Institute in Massapequa, N.Y., works with Long Island University Division 1 athletes in Brookville, N.Y., as well as with high school students. 

Schwarz told Fox News Digital it is important for students to keep the weight down by making several trips to their locker. 

When picking up the backpack from the floor, it is important kids bend at the knees so that they avoid increased strain on the lower back. 

He echoed Farrell’s words, saying that using only one strap causes excessive strain on that side of the body. 

Schwarz also said, “Keep straps snug. If too loose, the bag hangs lower, increasing the torque on the mid and low spine.”  

When picking up the backpack from the floor, it is important that kids bend at the knees so they avoid increased strain on the lower back, said Schwarz.

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Physical therapists offer these seven helpful tips when choosing a backpack.

1) Pick a lightweight pack with a padded back and wide padded shoulder straps.

2) Use both shoulder straps when carrying the backpack.

Use all compartments and place the heaviest books/items closer to the spine.

3) The backpack should rest in the middle of the back, no more than four inches below the waist line.

4) Choose a backpack with multiple compartments and a waist belt.

5) Limit the load to less than 10%-15% of a student’s body weight (if child is 100 lbs., the backpack should not weigh more than 10-15 pounds).

6) Use all compartments and place the heaviest books/items closer to the spine.

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7) Backpacks with wheels may seem like a good option, but they have challenges, too, such as getting them up and down the stairs and rolling them through grass and snow.


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