This pandemic year is heavy enough for students without the added burden of an overloaded backpack. Backpacks that are too heavy can cause issues from poor posture to long-lasting spinal damage.
Spine issues caused or aggravated by carrying heavy backpacks are more prevalent in his pediatric patients than Dr. Venkat Kavuri, an orthopedic spine surgeon on staff at St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart and Community Hospital in Munster, said he would have expected. “When talking to the kids or the parents, the most common inciting factor would be the weight of the backpacks.”
He explains that carrying too much weight leads to poor posture and body biomechanics to compensate. “In the short term, this makes muscles more susceptible to injury. I believe that this is the major cause of pain," said Kavuri.
"Continuing to have poor posture or body biomechanics or repetitive injury as a result of heavier backpacks may have a longer-term impact on a child’s growing body. This could be long-term issues with back pain due to easily fatigued musculature, actual injury to the disc or even in affecting ow the spine grows.”
Many children aren’t carrying heavy backpacks with several Region schools opting for virtual learning for part or all of the school week due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Though this reduces the risk from carrying heavy backpacks, Kavuri says virtual learning presents its own risks to children’s backs.
“Virtual learning definitely helps with decreasing the weight in kids’ backpacks,” he says, since lessons are often in electronic format and not hardback books. However, he cautions, “an important issue to consider is maintaining healthy neck posture while using computers. It is also important to try to keep track of the amount of screen time children are exposed to. This could have negative impacts on eyesight as well as on their social development.”
The backpack risks will return as Region students go back to school in-person. How can educators and parents help students protect their backs? “Limiting the amount of weight in backpacks probably carries the biggest impact,” Kavuri advises. “This may mean using lockers more frequently or finding more comfortable ways to carry books. One of the biggest steps parents can take is checking the posture of their kids when they are wearing backpacks. Poor posture is probably the easiest way to tell if the backpack is too heavy or unbalanced.”
Another preventive measure would be daily back exercises, he says. “This could be as simple as stretches, or, as involved as Pilates or yoga classes. Spending a little more time and effort upfront will likely lead to healthier and safer habits in the long run.”
Be the first to know
Get local news delivered to your inbox!