Imagine a day when instead of hauling a backpack full of textbooks, notebooks, pens, pencils, and lunches to-and-from school, your student will carry only a computer tablet that holds all of the aforementioned paraphernalia, minus the lunch. Until that day comes, it appears that some kids will be at risk for acute and chronic back injuries because of the weight they are carrying. Vivian Manning-Schaffel has seen the studies:
A 2014 study, published in Spine, used MRIs to analyze how heavy backpacks affected the lower backs of kids feeling lower back pain and those who didn’t. As it turns out, the kids with previous pain and heavy backpack loads suffered from disc compression in their lower backs, which can lead to painful problems down the road. Another study scanned the backs of children aged 11-to-13 carrying backpacks that accounted for approximately 10, 20, and 30 percent of their body weight. Not only did the kids with heavier backpacks experience disc compression, they noticed some lumbar asymmetry, or lower back curvature. Yet another study, conducted in Poland, confirmed heavy backpacks can alter the shape of a young person’s spine. A fourth study, referenced in Science Daily, found that heavy loads carried on the back in formative years have the potential to damage the soft tissues of the shoulder, causing microstructural damage to the nerves.
That computer tablet is looking better and better, isn’t it? (It’s actually a reality today at some colleges and universities, including the one my son goes to.) In the meantime, better take some precautions:
How can we save the next generation from developing chronic back issues as they get older? Make sure their backpacks fit close to their little bodies and fight for their right to lug around less. Though the common argument is that classroom real estate is at a premium, it’s well worth having a conversation with your child’s teachers to see if they might help institute policies that lighten their load. According to Lovitz — and the studies mentioned above — your child’s backpack should only weigh in at about 10-15 percent of their body weight. Far too many kids are carrying twice that each day. What a pain in the neck.