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The Backpack Dilemma

How Heavy Is Too Heavy?

By Dr. Claudia Anrig

Chiropractors, pediatricians and orthopedic surgeons all agree that backpacks are a problem for a child's spine. While a backpack alone may not cause major problems, overloading and improper carrying of a backpack can lead to headaches, neck, shoulder and lower back pain.

According to an article published in the medical journal Spine, "Of the 1,122 backpack users, 74% were classified as having back pain, validated by significantly poorer general health, more limited physical function, and more bodily pain."

How Heavy Is Too Heavy?

While health care professionals do not agree on the exact weight, the consensus is that a child burdened with more than 10 percent of their body weight risks back and neck pain; and the majority of health care professionals agree that a child carrying more than 15 percent or more of their body weight can suffer from severe back, neck and shoulder pain, headaches, and other spinal discomfort; not to mention aggravate pre-existing spinal conditions such as scoliosis.

Backpack stuffed full of school supplies in classroom. - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark How heavy is too heavy? A 60-pound child should be limited to carrying no more than 9 pounds; the 80-pound child, about 12 pounds; and the 100-pound child, no more than 15 pounds.

Time to Lighten the Load

It's important to weigh your child's backpack at least once a week. If it exceeds the "15 percent rule" of your child's weight, think of ways to "lighten the load." A backpack stuffed with that "extra" book, binder, electronic device or water bottle easily can add an unnecessary 10 pounds.

Parents need to show their children the importance of loading and carrying their backpacks appropriately. The heaviest items should rest against the back, which means loading them first and attempting to distribute the weight evenly.

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