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UT physician warns overloaded backpacks could cause health problems

School is in full swing and that means backpacks are loaded with textbooks, binders, homework and athletic gear. Backpacks are convenient for toting must-have items to school, but they can quickly become too heavy for children to carry safely.

Sept. 21 is National Backpack Awareness Day and a University of Toledo physician advises parents to make sure children are properly loading and carrying backpacks to avoid back strain and pain.

“When a backpack is too heavy, its weight can pull the child backwards,” said Dr. Nabil Ebraheim, professor and chair of the Department of Orthopedic Surgery. “The child counteracts the weight by arching their back or bending forward, causing the spine to compress unnaturally, which can contribute to neck, shoulder and back pain.”

The best way to avoid back strain is to avoid overloading backpacks. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, children should limit their backpack weight to between 10 and 15 percent of their body weight.

“It also is important that backpacks are sized properly to the child and have wide, padded straps as not to restrict circulation or cause nerve pain,” Ebraheim said. “A backpack with a waist strap also may help to transfer weight to the hips and help to prevent slouching.”

Students should be taught how to properly carry a backpack to avoid serious injury or long-term damage to the spine.

“Carrying a backpack over just one shoulder causes an uneven distribution of weight that forces the child to compensate by leaning to one side,” Ebraheim said. “That causes muscle strain and extra stress on the discs in the spine. Over time it could contribute to more serious back problems such as scoliosis.”

Ebraheim said when loading a backpack, try to concentrate the bulk of the weight closest to the child’s body and near the middle of the back. This distribution of weight will help the child achieve better posture and balance, reducing the risk of back or neck injury and falls.

He said schools who are replacing heavy textbooks with tablets are on the right track.

“With today’s modern technology, there’s no reason students should be carrying so many textbooks back and forth to school,” he said. “Schools that make the switch to digital learning are doing more than simply engaging students with an interactive way to teach, they also are protecting students’ health by lightening the load of their backpacks.”


is UT’s Communications Specialist. Contact her at 419.383.5376 or
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