Backpack Safety for Students

Backpack Safety for Students

Dr. Steven Weiniger

“As the sapling is bent, so grows the tree”.

Pediatricians and chiropractors are seeing an epidemic of middle and high school students suffering from back pain due to carrying heavy backpacks. A few years ago it seemed like a good way for kids to carry their books. Unfortunately, the weight of the backpacks has mushroomed for the 40 million students who carry them to school each day.

Have you ever really looked at the posture of an 80 pound sixth grader bent under a 40-pound backpack? The weight of the backpack forces the child to hunch over with shoulders rounded and head jutting forward. Over time, the muscles adapt to permanent poor posture, often leading to back problems and other injuries. For many, lifetime back pain can begin in middle school.

In 1998 over 3,300 children under age 14 were treated in emergency rooms for injuries related to backpacks, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Studies show most kids carry far more than the recommended 15% of their body weight. The idea of a boy carrying his girlfriend’s books home from school has gone from being a romantic notion, to impossible.

Pay attention to common sense advice like simply lightening the load. Teaching kids that they don’t have to carry everything they own will help, but the fact is, until kids all carry one pound, indestructible computers, backpacks are not going to shrink much.

Some will use backpacks on wheels, but many kids consider these “uncool”. For a teenager, being cool is far more important than good posture. But all kids can be taught smart backpack ergonomics, such as loading the heaviest items closest to the back. A well fitting and properly adjusted backpack, worn with snugly fitting straps, can help reduce the biomechanical stress on growing spines.

Many parents are helping their kids fight poor posture and the backpack problem with posture exercises. Posture exercises train kids to stand straight with their head and shoulders pulled back in line with their hips. Stretching tight muscles and strengthening weak ones helps to restore and maintain good posture. And, parents often join their kids in posture exercise because in addition to improving posture, these exercises can help relieve and prevent back pain.

Dr. Steven Weiniger of recommends the following posture exercises for middle and high school students. All posture exercises should be performed pain free. If you experience pain or discomfort, stop the exercise and consult your physician.