For years, students have complained about how heavy their backpacks are, and it turns out that could be more of a problem than parents may have realized. Recent studies show that carrying a heavy backpack to and from school on a regular basis can lead to bad posture and back problems. One study found that 33.5 percent of students have back pain stemming from heavy backpacks, indicating that this is a fairly common issue. So, how heavy is too heavy, and how can students avoid getting back problems from their backpacks? Here’s what the newest studies suggest.
The Impact of a Backpack on the Spine
Recent studies have focused on whether students are hurting their spine when they wear heavy backpacks, and the answer appears to be that they are. In particular, a study titled “Backpack Forces on the Spine” published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine NIH found that when the average student uses a backpack, the stress on the back may be more than 11 times the weight of the bag. That’s because most students slouch as they carry a heavy backpack, compressing the spine.
More specifically, when researchers in this study added weight to the model spine when it was straight, they saw that it experienced the equivalent of 7.2 times the weight for every pound. But when they added weight to a spine that was hunched over, it experienced 11.6 times the stress of every pound. So, they were able to conclude that heavy backpacks in general put a lot of stress on the spine, especially considering that students’ spines are still growing and are, therefore, susceptible to long-term problems that could follow children to adulthood. And bad posture—including the hunched position many students take on under a heavy backpack—could make the issue much worse.
Guidelines to Avoid Back Problems
It’s clear that heavy backpacks can lead to back issues for many students. But just how heavy is too heavy? Dr. Ken Hansraj, who co-authored the above study about stress on the spine, says that for young children, backpacks should be no heavier than 10 percent of their body weight.
This means a 50-pound 7-year-old should carry a backpack that weighs 5 pounds or less. Older children can handle slightly heavier backpacks, as Dr. Hansraj said a 150-pound teen can safely carry up to 23 pounds in a backpack, while most heavier adults can likely handle about 40 pounds. Considering that a single textbook can weigh a couple of pounds on its own, it may seem hard to keep backpacks as lightweight as the recommendations encourage. But it may be possible if students become more selective about which books they transport back and forth from school to home every day, and if they use lockers or similar options that schools might offer.
The weight of the backpack isn’t the only detail to pay attention to. Student should also focus on having good posture, as standing up straight will reduce the stress on the spine. Additionally, they should always use both straps on the backpack, ensuring those straps have been properly tightened.
Clearly, the issue of overly heavy backpacks isn’t one we should ignore. The latest studies should urge teachers and parents to take this common complaint seriously. Helping students implement these tips would be a good start when it comes to reducing back injuries from backpacks.