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Health Team

Heavy backpacks can be a pain for students

Posted February 5, 2010 6:29 p.m. EST
Updated February 5, 2010 6:40 p.m. EST

Lots of homework can mean a loaded backpack for students and back pain as a result.

Thousands of  children show up at the emergency room every year with backpack-related injuries. Now, a new study provides evidence that heavy backpacks really do strain children's spines.

Dr. Abigail Lynn of The Mount Sinai Medical Center said incidents of children reporting back pain increase alongside the load they carry.

Ethan Gibel, 10, suffers from back pain. His mother, Bonni Gibel, blames his heavy backpack.

Tests showed he shared a symptom with other kids who carry a heavy load. “I had go take an MRI and I kept feeling this pain at night,” he said.

“He had a slight curvature probably because he carried his backpack on one side a lot,” his mother said.

Lynn warned that back pain that starts in the young can be a harbinger of more problems down the road.

“This could be causing pressure to the discs causing them to break down earlier, causing disc aherniations, causing back pain as an adult,” she said.

Parents can help lighten the load by making sure children do not favor one side of their body. Children should use both straps on the backpack – the wider straps provide more support and better weight distribution. A backpack should never weigh more than 10 to 15 percent of the carrier’s body weight.

Another option is to purchase a rolling bag, such as those used for air travel.

Ethan has a suggestion, too. “Give us less homework,” he said.

He's probably going to have to find another way to lighten his load.