Backpacks and Backaches

Can all your textbooks be putting your health at risk?  Physical therapists agree that a backpack that is too heavy could be detrimental to your health.

Anna Topmiller, Writer

Heavy backpacks and busy hallways have been the epitome of high school halls for decades.  Backpacks can have lasting impacts on students’ health and can damage muscles and joints. Is it time to eliminate the strain heavy backpacks put on students’ backs?

Everyone at Homestead uses a backpack. Most students, especially students in AP classes or classes with lots of necessary material, have overstuffed backpacks. Students load everything that they need for the entire school day on their back, and haul it around from class to class. 

“I cannot afford to leave any materials and textbooks at home” Jared Sagan (10) said about his backpack. “It can weigh about 20 or more pounds.”

Most students do not use their lockers because there is not enough time to visit them in between classes, so students cannot swap textbooks, gym clothes, and notebooks in and out throughout the day. 

“It’s a lot of stress, not only physically, but also mentally having to carry everything around with you. The ability to have a locker that is close and easily accessible would make life a lot easier,” Jazzmyne Swenson (11) said.

Research from kidshealth.org shows that backpacks that are too heavy can cause the vertebrae in the spine  to compress. Students arch their backs and lean forward to counteract being pulled backwards by the heavy backpack. It causes physical changes, as the upper back can tend to look more curved.

Backpacks are still better than messenger bags or simply carrying your books because the weight is more evenly distributed around the large back muscles. However, wearing a backpack on one shoulder (much like using a messenger bag) causes one to lean to  the side in an unnatural position.

Misusing the backpack can lead to improper posture and back, neck and shoulder pain that can persist into adulthood.

Backpacks also increase fall risk because the extra weight in the back makes it harder for the student to balance.  Massive backpacks can also be tripped over or hit other students. Remember to be aware of how much space you and your backpack to up to avoid injuring others in a crowded hallway 

Many classes at Homestead have started using online textbooks; however, there are still some classes that have yet to switch over.

“The school could transition to more online textbooks because a lot of the time we don’t use the hard copy and it’s annoying to still have to carry that around. After a while carrying all that weight starts to hurt my back,” says Rebecca Luckey (11).

“Prevention is key, making sure you try to limit the load of the backpack, that it is fitted properly, a good strengthening routine for the core that is based on planking and not sit ups and crunches and occasional treatment for irritations whether it is muscle work or manipulation can all be beneficial depending on each person’s specific needs.  If someone has pain, the best thing to do would be to come in for evaluation and make sure we identify the right cause of pain and then take steps to help the patient become independent and able to manage their stress and pain on their own without needing constant treatments,” says Dr. Troy Byall of Fort Wayne Spine and Joint. 

Josh Butcher, a physical therapist and athletic trainer from Indiana Physical Therapy, says that “Carrying an overly heavy bag on your shoulders most definitely could increase your risk for injury or overstrain on parts of your body.  Wearing a heavy backpack for prolonged periods often will cause strain on the neck, back, and shoulders. Muscles may then fatigue and the student will fall into poor posture, which can lead to muscle imbalance or injury.”

“Over a period of time this load can cause pain and strain to the muscle and the spine, but with time most tissue should rebound and heal.  For most students, carrying a backpack to and from school should not cause a long term problem or issues to their health that will be lasting,” Dr. Byall clarifies.  

“It is not usually the short term effect of wearing the backpack, but doing so daily can lead to a change in posture or load to the joints over time that can eventually cause lasting pain or dysfunction,” says Butcher.