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Watch Their Backs -- Don't Overload Those Schoolbags

TUESDAY, Sept. 21, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- After more than a year at home, children are heading back to classrooms across the country. But they're also toting heavy bags on their backs again.

A backpack that fits properly -- and is not overloaded with binders and books -- will help prevent injury.

"With a focus on getting back in the classroom and returning to 'normal,' it's easy to overlook possible injuries caused by everyday school supplies," said Dr. Emily Dodwell, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) in New York City and spokesperson for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

"Backpacks might not seem that high on the list of safety hazards for children, but if too heavy or worn improperly, they can cause pain or injury to muscles and joints," she said in a hospital news release.

Backpacks should never weigh more than 10% to 20% of a kids' body weight, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises. (For example, a child who weighs 50 pounds should carry no more than 10 pounds, max.)

Heavy backpacks are often to blame when pediatric orthopedic surgeon Dr. John Blanco sees more kids and teens with back and shoulder pain at the start of the school year.

All pain should be taken seriously, Blanco said. But, he cautioned, there is no evidence that carrying a heavy backpack could lead to long-term problems such as scoliosis or a hunchback, as some parents fear.

"It's not uncommon for students to lug around 30 pounds, which is usually too heavy based on their body weight," said Blanco, who practices at HSS Long Island in Uniondale, N.Y. "Most families have a scale at home and can use it to weigh the backpack and take out items that are not needed for the school day."

Dodwell and Blanco offered these additional suggestions for selecting and using a backpack to keep kids injury-free.

  • Choose a sturdy backpack with wide, padded shoulder straps and a padded back. Tighten straps to keep the pack close to the body, which strains the back less.

  • A waist strap prevents the backpack from moving side to side.

  • Wear the pack properly, over both shoulders. This distributes the weight evenly. Put heaviest items closest to the middle of the backpack, rather than in front compartments.

  • Choose a rolling backpack if the school allows it and doesn't have stairs.

  • Encourage kids to use their lockers, rather than lug everything throughout the day.

  • Teach young people how to pick up a backpack properly. They should bend their knees, rather than bending at the waist.

Over time, the kids' muscles will get stronger, Blanco said.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers more back-to-school safety tips.


SOURCE: Hospital for Special Surgery, news release, Sept. 9, 2021

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