Health Team

For students, heavy backpacks carry potential dangers

Posted September 12, 2013

— At Holly Grove Middle School, 12-year-old Sophie Berzins covers a lot of ground and climbs a lot of stairs while carrying a big bundle on her back. Typically in her backpack, Sophie carries two notebooks, 2 large binders and a lunch bag.

“It’s pretty hard to carry it all around—sometimes I drop stuff,” said Sophie. The middle school student says she also carries a couple of books because she loves to read.

Overstuffed backpacks are quite common - just watch any group of children boarding a bus or walking around school.

The heavy bags are known to cause long-term issues with the natural curves of the spine. “If any of those curves are flattened, that can make the back less stable,” said Chris Billiar, WakeMed physical therapist.

Billiar says that the heavy bags put a strain on the tiny muscles of the back. He recommends choosing backpacks with padded straps and a padded back.

The bag also should be properly adjusted to fit the child’s size. Billiar says, “It shouldn’t be too long or too short with the straps. Ideally, the pack should have a waist strap and/or a chest strap to relieve some of the pressure.”

Consumer Reports recommends keeping the weight of backpacks to about 10 percent of the child’s weight. If the child is 80 pounds, the pack should only weigh about 8 pounds.

Computer bags, also called messenger bags, are gaining popularity among students. These bags only have one strap slung over the shoulder. Experts recommend backpacks with two straps, which distribute the weight more evenly.


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  • itsnotmeiswear Sep 20, 2013

    The backpacks I carried in high school and college weighed about the same as the ones my kids tried to carry in elementary school. Much of the weight and bulk was caused every teacher having specific requirements for their binders. With budgets being cut at every turn and considering the cost of the printed books, it seems like a tablet reader would be the obvious solution. You can buy one for less than the cost of one science book. Sooner rather than later most of their classes are going to be on something like Khan Academy so we might as well get them adjusted.

  • CharmedLife Sep 19, 2013

    Same goes here, triangelmom! Bookbags were also built to last back then, too!(Talking about the late 80s-early 90s). EastPak was the preferred name brand, and was well worth the money! I had 2 of them. One was forest green and the other was a dark purple. Those were the good days when you didn't have to worry about what our kids have to worry about nowadays, teachers taught lesson plans, and get this...we actually learned something! We didn't have all this Common Core mess they do today.

  • Obamacare for everyone Sep 19, 2013

    babedan, not all of us are 85 years old.

  • krazyhorse0822 Sep 17, 2013

    electronic text books?

    HEY! Right up my alley, as a techno geek grandpa, I am all for that!

  • TriangleMommy Sep 16, 2013

    I was a teenager in the day when you wore your backpack on one shoulder only (unless you wanted to be beat up).
    My bag was routinely VERY heavy, so much so that even guys were shocked at how heavy it was and THEY could barely lift it.

    Guess it was all practice for carrying a child around on my hip. At least in high school the bookbag was always on the right, and now I carry my daughter on my left hip -- Have to balance out the back damage

  • babedan Sep 16, 2013

    When I was in school, a sure fire way to get your rear end kicked would have been to use a backpack. You were expected to carry your books under your arm and if you took a lunch that was carried in the other hand.

  • blkmamba Sep 13, 2013

    I know at my child's middle school, they are not allowed to carry their bookbags around. They only get to go to their lockers 3 times a day and have to carry in their arms what they need. I don't know why that is, whether it's about the weight of the books or if it's more coddling. When I was in school I had to plan out my day, when would I be able to get to my locker and back to class on time, the schools are effectively removing lessons on time management in my opinion.

  • ljcs357 Sep 13, 2013

    They'll be fine


    -The Hunchback of North Raleigh

  • athens2002 Sep 13, 2013

    This is the age of technology..when will school have the option for electronic text books?

  • Obamacare for everyone Sep 13, 2013

    Oh come on, we lugged heavy backpacks around from elementary school all the way through college, and most of us are still able to walk.