By Richard A. Pistolese
Printed in: I.C.P.A. Newsletter November/December 1998
We all want our children to do well in school. We make sure they bring home
their books and do their homework at night. We make sure they have their books
packed away in their backpacks and ready to be taken to classes the next day.
However, what we may be overlooking is a threat to our children's spine more
sinister than any fall off the swing set.
Recently scientists have begun to examine the effects of carrying heavy
backpacks full of books. What they have discovered is that carrying heavy
backpacks may pose a serious threat to your child's spinal development. A team
of researchers at Auburn University has studied 421 students and found that
backpacks carried with one-strap promoted lateral spinal bending and shoulder
elevation. Additionally, they noted carrying a backpack promoted significant
forward lean of head and trunk.
The scientists state the average backpack represented 17% of the child's body
weight. If we apply this standard to adults, it would be the equivalent of the
average 150 pound adult carrying a 26-pound backpack. This would explain why
67.2% of the subjects suffered muscle soreness, 50.8% suffered back pain, 24.5%
suffered numbness, and 14.7% suffered shoulder pain. The researchers went on to
conclude that the daily physical stresses associated with carrying a backpack on
one shoulder significantly alters the posture and gait of the youth. Sanders 2
reports that Orthopedists are of the opinion that continual exposure to carrying
weighted loads can promote damage accredited to the imposed postural problems
caused by carrying the loads. The authors of the Auburn study also state that
the effects of weight bearing induced stress is a serious issue when considering
children and youths who are experiencing physical growth and motor development.
If your child does use backpacks to carry books there are things that you can do
to reduce the physical stress associated with carry backpacks.
It is important to remember that children and adolescent youths need backpack
limitations that are sensitive to their age, weight, stage of spinal
development, growth pattern and fitness level. Only by exercising prudent care
can we safeguard our children's health.
- Make sure that the weight of the bookbag does not exceed more than 10% of the
child's total body weight. 3 This is especially important for children in grades
- Avoid using backpacks or athletic bags that have only one strap.
- Ensure that children wear both straps on their shoulder's to distribute
weight evenly. This will significantly reduce book bag carrying stresses.
- Have your child examined regularly by a chiropractor so that any potential
spinal, or postural, problems can be addressed and corrected.
1. Influence of carrying book bags on gait and posture of youths
Ergonomics 1997; 40(6):631-41
2. Weight of schoolbags in a Freiburg elementary school. Recommendations to parents and teachers
3. Strain in children caused by carrying schoolbags
Offentl Gesundheitswes 1977; 39(7):369-78
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Copyright © 1996 Richard
Last modified: March 22, 2002