Backpacks, Back to School, Back Pain
Just how heavy should that backpack be when your child goes back to school? A recent study from The Pennsylvania State University says the load limit should be 10 percent of body mass. For all you math majors, that’s 10 pounds for a 100-pound child. Beyond that, your child’s backpack could be packing a whopping dose of back, neck, and shoulder pain.
According to The American Occupational Therapy Association, more than 79 million children in the United States carry backpacks to school. The Association’s statistics say that approximately 55 percent of students carry a backpack that is heavier than the recommended guidelines of 15 percent of total body weight. But the findings of this new study would place the percentage much higher.
Yet another recent study, this one from Canada, investigated the impact of the design of children’s backpacks. The researchers found that there were significant changes in the children’s trunk forward lean and cranio-vertebral angle (neck angle) when they carried a backpack that weighed 15 percent of their body weight.
Some of this change can be alleviated if most of the weight is placed low in the backpack. However, a backpack that weighs 15 percent of the child’s body weight may still cause wear and tear on a child’s body. Given that back pain is the most frequent cause of limited activity in people younger than 45 years old and that 70 to 85 percent of all people have back pain during their lives, it seems that starting the trend early in life is not a good idea.
According to Michelle Merget, a licensed occupational therapist at The Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, parents need to evaluate what goes into their children’s backpacks. Children are carrying computers, books, and sometimes even sports equipment, and all that can quickly exceed the desirable weight limit. “It can be an overwhelming and even dangerous amount of stuff to carry,” she warns.
The Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital has just released a video designed to help parents properly choose and prepare their children’s backpacks to help prevent back problems. Parents can visit the website and get tips on backpack fit, proper shoulder straps, padding, and how to pack a backpack properly.
American Occupational Therapy Association
Bauer DH, Freivalds A. Work 2009; 32(3): 339-50.
Brackley HM et al. Work 2009; 32(3): 351-60.
Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital
National Institutes of Health