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Don't allow backpacks to weigh students down

By David Freidson | Posted: Monday, August 26, 2013 12:00 am

Happy New Year! Yes, I do realize that it is four months away from Jan. 1. But for the more than 75 million American students from kindergarten through graduate school, late August/early September is the start of a new school year.

Back to school time means back to school shopping. Millions will be going to the store with a printed (or digital) list of needed supplies.

I want you to put some thought into the right backpack.

More than 79 million students in the U.S. carry a backpack. In one study, 64 percent of students ages 11-15 reported back pain related to heavy backpacks. In another study, 85 percent of university students self reported discomfort and pain associated with backpack usage.

The most common areas for backpack induced pain are the shoulders, neck, mid back and low back.

About 55 percent of students carry a backpack that is heavier that the recommended guideline. The accepted guideline for how heavy a backpack should be is 10 percent of the student's total body weight. I would use 10 percent as the upper limit and 5 percent as the goal.

You should pack the backpack the day before school, not the morning of, when everyone is in a rush. When you pack the backpack, only pack what is needed that day.

Only bring textbooks for the classes for that day and if the text book isn't required; leave it at home - the same goes for notebooks and folders. Middle school and high-schoolers should utilize their locker. One of the first things in the morning before the first class should be going to the locker to drop off anything that won't be used for the next couple of classes.

In the morning, there should be no items in the backpack that aren't needed after lunch. The lunch break should give enough time to go back to the locker the get the supplies for the afternoon.

A large percentage of students are in after-school activities and bring their backpack and a gym bag to school.

For those students, the 10 percent rule is still in effect - the total weight of both the backpack and the gym bag should be less than 10 percent of the student's bodyweight. It is important that student athletes drop off their athletic bags in a gym locker or their regular locker at the start of a day.

But, you say, "It's impossible to keep my child's backpacks under 10 percent of their body weight!"

My helpful hint is for the student to not carry their backpack if they don't have to. For example, if your student is standing at the bus stop, they should put their bags on the ground.

How should a backpack be worn? Ideally, the height of the backpack should extend from about two inches below the shoulder blades to the waist level, or slightly above the waist. One should wear a backpack on both shoulders so that the weight is evenly distributed.

If the student is taking a gym bag, they should switch arms that the bag is carried in. If we always carry a bag on one side, imbalances in the body can occur, and when imbalances occur, we are more prone to aches and pains.

Sept. 18 is National School Backpack Awareness Day.

Many chiropractic, occupational therapy, and physical therapy clinics have events that day.

We are hosting a Backpack Awareness Day event at our clinic, Synergy Health & Rehabilitation, in which we'll have free backpack weigh ins, cool backpack handouts, a short educational talk on backpacks and other bags, and free food. Call my office to register for this exciting event as space is limited.

With increased pressure on academics and extracurriculars, young people today often feel like the weight of the world is on their shoulders. Let's strive to have the weight of the backpack on their shoulders be less than 10 percent of their bodyweight.

David Freidson is a licensed chiropractor and works out of the Synergy Health & Rehabilitation office in Minnetonka. To learn more, visit or call 952-475-4080.

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