Are Backpacks a Pain in the Back?

By Lee Shiney, Teachnet Editor

With our predisposition to park ourselves in front of a computer or TV, we weren’t too surprised to learn recently of students as young as elementary level complaining of back problems normally reserved for years later in life. But the question has surfaced: are book-laden backpacks to blame?

Different districts are already handling the issue in different ways. Teachnet Contributor, “Wizzle,” points out:
“When I went to my daughter’s Open House (High School), I was impressed by the way a number of teachers had ordered one ‘class set’ of books for their subject. This set remained in the room. Each student gets a copy of the text of their own to keep at home”.

From another school, Vineyard10 wrote,
“A decision was made that the teachers cannot send more than one book home each night for homework, so the students won’t be burdened with excessive weight. Now, I do agree that it’s not healthy for anyone’s back to carry around a lot of weight. But I’m not sure how we can give the appropriate amount of homework to these kids with one book a night.”

Are those small folding airport luggage contraptions the miracle answer? We’d never seen this before, but Sharon (Grade 5, MI) writes:
“Many children at our school have purchased the small suitcases on wheels. They are becoming increasingly popular.”

There are even backpacks now with rollers and handles built right in: Rollerbags. In any case, they can create their own kind of hazard:

“Our school was originally built as a K-8 school. We don’t have the wider hallways a middle school should have. The hallways are very crowded during the change of classes. The students are busy conversing with their friends and do not see the students who are wheeling the backpacks behind them. We’ve already had a teacher who almost fell when a student cut in front of her with one of them.” -Eileen B.

Considering that students today are probably in the some of the worst physical shape ever, there may be more to their pain than a few books. If you don’t accept fewer books as answer to achieving a lighter load, consider these tips for wearing a heavy pack:

  • Always use both straps to evenly distribute the weight of the backpack.
  • Pack the heaviest objects closest to the wearer’s back, and distribute weight evenly from left to right.
  • Wide, padded straps will be more comfortable than thinner straps and unpadded straps.
  • Shorten the straps so that the pack rides higher on the back, reducing lower back and spine strain.
  • If you see a student wearing a backpack and walking with a forward, encourage them not to lean forward, and check the weight of the pack to ensure it is not too heavy for their body size. The backpack should not exceed twenty percent of the child’s weight.