Experts recommend that backpacks weigh no
more than 10 percent to 15 percent of a child's weight, but the average
backpack weighs in at 20 percent.
"In fact, 10 percent to 19 percent of
children miss school or sports activities every year because of pain caused by
heavy backpacks," says Matthew Dobbs, M.D., orthopaedic surgeon at Washington
University School of Medicine and St. Louis Children's Hospital. "And 30 to 50
percent of adolescents complain of pain related to backpack use."
Dobbs says pediatricians can help their
patients avoid injuries from using backpacks by stressing to them the
- Limit personal items.
- Don't carry the pack by hand or sling it over one shoulder. Use
both straps over the shoulders to distribute the weight evenly.
- Wear backpacks over the strongest muscles, located in the
"Adolescent girls ages 11 to 16 are most at
risk, which may be attributed to the rapid growth spurt they experience during
this age range and the susceptibility of rapidly growing spines to back pain.
In addition, girls often weigh less than boys, but still carry the same amount
of backpack weight," Dobbs says. "Kids who walk to and from school are also
more likely to suffer back pain from heavy packs because duration of use
increases the risk of injury."
Treatment for backpack pain usually
involves prescribing anti-inflammatory medicine for 10 days. Physical therapy
is sometimes recommended.
"These types of injury are usually
temporary, and pediatricians can reassure parents that the extra weight doesn't
cause structural or long-term damage to the spine, nor does it cause
scoliosis," Dobbs says. "But since backpacks are a fun and popular way for kids
to express their own sense of style, it's important that physicians stress
safety precautions to patients and their parents."