Author: Charles L. Allen, Richmond, VA Personal Injury Attorney
For many schoolchildren, a heavy backpack is a necessary part of life. They bring home the books they need for homework each night, sometimes carrying as many as six or seven, and lug them back to school in the morning. It is also common for children to carry other materials, such as class projects, along with their books. Everything that they carry adds up, and the result is a load that can weigh around 30% of the child’s body weight.
According to research studies, heavy backpacks have not conclusively been found to cause permanent back problems in children. Still, packs that are too heavy may have adverse effects on children such as muscle pain and soreness. As a result, medical professionals recommend keeping backpack weight to a minimum; some suggest that the weight should not surpass 10% of a child’s body weight, while others say that as much as 20% is fine. However, most suggest that a child should carry no more than 15% of his or her weight.
Identifying a Backpack that is Too Heavy
Sometimes, simply lifting a child’s backpack is enough to know that its weight exceeds what that child should be carrying. In other cases, a child may reveal that he or she is struggling to lift the load or has pain from carrying the pack. While the danger is obvious in these instances, the signs may not always be as clear.
Other indicators to look for include red marks on the child’s shoulders from the backpack, a change in the child’s posture while carrying it, and whether the child struggles while putting it on and taking it off. If any of these signs exist, the child may be in danger of injury from a too-heavy pack. There are a number of steps that can be taken to reduce the risk, however.
Protecting Children’s Health
The best way to keep a child safe is by reducing the weight of his or her backpack. Perhaps the easiest way to lighten a pack is to limit the amount of books a child loads each day. One somewhat expensive option is to keep extra copies of a few school books at home. This can greatly reduce the weight that a child has to carry by eliminating the duplicate books from their daily burden. Another method is to ask a teacher for scans or digital copies of the necessary material, since both alternate forms weigh much less than an entire textbook.
One alternative to traditional backpacks is a "rolling" backpack. These packs include an extendable luggage-style handle and a hard bottom surface with wheels mounted in it. Children can wheel their backpack around the school, then collapse the handle to put on the backpack before getting on the bus.
How to properly wear and pack a backpack
Aside from owning two copies or having an alternate version, there may not be an easy way to limit how many books a child carries. If there is no way to reduce the load, and a rolling backpack is not available, the best way to preserve back health is by ensuring that a child knows how to properly wear and pack a backpack.
It is important for a child to wear the pack evenly, utilizing both shoulder straps. Slinging a backpack over one shoulder puts all of the weight on one side of the body, increasing injury risk. Making sure the pack fits snugly and is not worn too low also helps reduce the chances of back pain.
When packing the backpack, children should try to make sure that the load is evenly distributed throughout the compartments and will not shift to one side while the pack is worn. Bulky or sharp items should be loaded in a way that will prevent them from digging into the child’s back. Another helpful packing technique is to make sure everything that is packed is absolutely necessary. If something can be left behind, it probably should be.
Heavy backpacks can cause pain and, possibly, serious injury to children and their growing bodies. While these burdens are often necessary due to homework requirements and other projects required by schools, smart practices can reduce the health risks that children face as a result.
About the Author: For more than 30 years, Charles Allen has focused his legal practice on cases arising from motor vehicle collisions. He is a third-generation member of the Allen Family and has obtained an "AV Preeminent" rating from Martindale Hubbell.
 http://consumer.healthday.com/encyclopedia/children-s-health-10/kids-ailments-health-news-434/backpacks-and-kids-645623.html; http://www.spine-health.com/wellness/ergonomics/backpacks-and-back-pain-children
 http://www.nsc.org/learn/safety-knowledge/Pages/backpack-safety-for-kids.aspx; http://www.spine-health.com/wellness/ergonomics/tips-prevent-back-pain-kids-backpacks; http://consumer.healthday.com/encyclopedia/children-s-health-10/kids-ailments-health-news-434/backpacks-and-kids-645623.html