What parents need to know about backpack weight

Books. A Laptop. A lunch box. Sports equipment. Instruments.

By the time students get to high school or junior high, the list of what they need to carry on their body to and from school multiplies.

While students may complain of muscle pain from the weight of what they carry in their backpacks, Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine Stefanie Schroeder, who works at Carle, said, “I don’t think there is going to be any significant long-term damage to kids having heavy backpacks.”

But, year-after-year Schroeder does see patients in her office, mostly high school-aged students who have shoulder or back pain from carrying heavy backpacks throughout the day.

“If you start to notice that kids are complaining of back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, if you start to notice that they are asking for Ibuprofen or Tylenol because they are having pain, if you notice that they start to sit a little funny at the dinner table or on the couch, you’ll want to investigate a little further,” Schroeder said.

She also said that parents should watch for their child bending backward or falling forward as a sign that the backpack is too heavy for the child.

To combat backpack weight, Schroeder encourages parents to purchase backpacks that are not wider than the child’s shoulders or longer than the torso.

It is also important to make sure the child wears both backpack straps on the shoulders, and if possible, to purchase a backpack with a chest or waist strap to help distribute the backpack weight.

Students in late elementary school through high school might have additional items to carry, such as athletic equipment and instruments to and from school.

Schroeder suggests looping a lunchbox strap on the backpack to leave the hands free for instruments. With bigger instruments and sports equipment, Schroeder recommends getting backpack straps to distribute the weight on the body.

“The more you can do over the shoulder, the better,” she said.

With a load of books and additional equipment, it is important for parents to encourage their high school-aged students to go to their lockers as often as possible.

“I know that sometimes you can only get one or two stops in during the day, but if they can, then they don’t have to carry around everything all day,” Schroeder said.

There are times, though, when Schroeder needs to see students in her office.

“If you notice kids are having a lot of pain, then taken them into their doctor to make sure there is nothing more serious going on.”

If the pain is muscle pain, the child might be referred to a D.O., such as Schroeder, who will use manipulations and techniques to help the muscles relax and ease the pain.

“A lot of times that is from muscle pain related to how heavy the backpack is,” she said.

Schroeder said patients between the ages of 3 and 18 use her services.

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I may do it all, but I have not done it all.

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