Too much weight? School backpacks could lead to child back problems

Published: Aug. 28, 2015 at 10:19 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 29, 2015 at 12:15 AM EDT
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Dr. Gene Massey, Surgeon, Strand Orthopaedics
Dr. Gene Massey, Surgeon, Strand Orthopaedics

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - With class back in session there might be an extra strain on your students and we aren't talking homework.
The weight of backpacks could cause serious health problems.
With school work, homework and extra curricular activities your child may be feeling like they are trying to balance the world on their shoulders and based on what they are carrying in their backpack, that might be the case.

Dr. Gene Massey, an Orthopaedic Surgeon with Strand Orthopaedics, says his office sees children all the time, complaining of backache problems.

"We definitely see it in our office, we see an uptick in the number of adolescents  and young children with back pain once school gets back in session," he said.

Massey says the weight from an overloaded and/or over-sized backpack can lead to pain. " I saw one statistic that said a school -aged child carrying his backpack everyday to and from school would carry the equivalent of a compact car in the amount of weight throughout the school year," he explained.

Massey says there are signs that parents can watch for to know when its time to lift the load. "The child will feel overwhelmed with the amount of weight so they will start to lean forward, that's the first thing that they will do, they will lean forward with the straps," explained Massey.

He says normally the problem with that is the more they lean forward, the more stress that puts on the discs in the back and you also have to strain your neck backwards to look up,

Dr. Massey goes to explain, " When they are leaning forward trying to carry that heavy weight that puts more pressure on the discs which are the shock asbsorbers on the front part of the spine."

Massey explains the problems now could lead to long term effects. "The discs that you have as a child have to carry you through to an elderly age and so the more pressure you put on them at a young age the more wear and tear you can develop," he stated.

Nowadays, technology can ease the textbook burden. Students have access to Ipads and tablets to do school work, and often times textbooks will come in the digital form. But for many Horry County Schools students recent technology rules restricts students from taking the devices homes.
The Horry County School District says homework on a device or in a textbook is based on the individual teacher's preference.

So, if your child has to tote those textbooks, Massey says the weight of the backpack should not exceed 15% of your child's body weight.

For example: For a 48 lbs. child, 15% is 7 lbs. 

                    For a 59 lbs. child, 15% is 9 lbs.

                    For a 76 lbs., 15% is 11 lbs. 

Health officials also recommend wider-padded backpack straps to offer more balance support and the size of the back is also important.

"Use a back pack that is on the smaller side, so for my kindergartner and 1st graders you want to use a smaller backpack, because the tendency is with a big backpack is fill it up until its full.

Massey says the way you pack a backpack can help alleviate the pain.

He stated, "The heaviest things,  the heaviest book typically you want to pack those closest to the child's body."

According to the American Chiropractic Association, parents should encourage their child to wear both backpack shoulder straps.  Also, a backpack should not hang no more than four inches below their belt and that varies for every child.

If you still notice your child's backpack is still too heavy, talk with the teacher, health officials say there's nothing wrong with asking if your child can leave the heavier books at school.

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