By: Dr. Karen Latimer

I have a child who is crippled with poor decision-making skills. Yesterday, we spent about three hours trying to pick out her backpack online. She wanted something with yellow, but not too yellow. It couldn't be too round, too square, too childish or too boring. Some were too big, some too small, and some were simply "yuck". After narrowing it down to two, consulting all her cousins and a few friends via text, she made a decision. I hit "Place Order" and checked it off my list, filing away a reminder to start the process earlier next year.

Only later did it occur to me, ergonomics should've been one of our considerations. The size and weight of the backpacks kids are carrying home cannot be good for their little backs. A study done by the Journal of Pediatric Orthopedics a few years back revealed more than half of school children suffered from back pain because of the heavy lifting. Pain ranged from mild to severe.

The study showed:
  • Girls were more likely to have discomfort
  • Backpacks weighing more than 20% of a child's body weight were associated with pain
  • Backpacks carried in hand, instead of on the back caused more severe pain
  • About 20% of kids reported pain lasting more than six months.
The study did not follow the kids into adulthood, but it is know that adults with back pain often suffered with back pain as a child.

How can you ease their burden?
  • Help them understand which books need to come home and which can stay at school
  • Backpacks should end above the waist and have padded straps
  • Kids should use both straps and not just sling their bag over their shoulder
  • Straps should be as tight as possible
  • Heavier books and binders should be placed closer to the back
  • When all else fails, use a rolling backpack
If your child complains of pain from carrying his or her school bag, talk to their teacher about lightening the load. Many books are online and homework and study sheets can be printed. Ask your child's teacher to specify which books are necessary. Discuss the possibility of leaving some books at home.

If your child continues to experience pain, be sure to discuss it with your pediatrician.