Northeastern professor warns big backpacks cause big back pains

(8-05-04) BOSTON, Mass.—Beyond the obvious academic stress that September brings, heading back to school may literally be a pain in the neck for students. The burden of a heavy backpack can eventually lead to the more serious problems of chronic back pain and scoliosis, according to NU physical therapy professor Mary Hickey. According to the American Physical Therapy Association, backpacks should weigh no more than 15 percent of the carriers' total body weight. However, Hickey recommends that backpacks weigh in at no more than a tenth of a child's body weight.

"Kids who use backpacks often use them incorrectly and to their physical detriment," she says. "Big bags can have a lasting physical impact on developing skeletal systems and posture."

Hickey conducted a research study on the physically damaging affects of heavy backpacks after witnessing her own children strain under the weight of their schoolbooks. About 70 percent of the middle school students in her experiment were lugging around a backpack that was harmful to their growing bodies. While small kids hauling around 25-pound backpacks is a common sight in elementary, middle and high school hallways, according to Hickey's computation, only a 200-pound person can safely carry a bag of this size.

"The most important thing for parents to know is that there are simple ways to prevent kids from permanently damaging their backs," Hickey explains. Hickey offers some advice for parents to keep in mind, especially while shopping for back-to-school gear:

  • As a rule, kids should never carry a bag that weighs more than 10% of their body weight. This rule applies to all students, no matter what age. "If your child is unable to stand up straight with the pack on, the load is too heavy," explains Hickey.
  • Remind your kids about the value of lockers. Reducing backpack poundage will prevent any serious back pain in the future.
  • The big

Contact: Emily Robbins
Northeastern University

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