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The burden of carrying a heavy backpack

Long before my mom lovingly scolded me for wearing high-heeled shoes while pregnant, she used to routinely plead with me to not carry my (usually heavy) backpack on one shoulder. "You're going to hurt your back," she warned. But wearing straps on both shoulders was very uncool (in southern Wisconsin, where I grew up, anyway), and so I dismissed my well-meaning mother with a hand wave and a reminder of my favorite mantra. "Style over comfort, Mom."

As it turns out (and no big surprise here) my mom was on to something: Lugging around heavy books for months and years on end really can hurt your back. Today on the Well blog, Jane Brody paints the not-so-pretty picture:

Among the risks described by Dr. Pierre D’Hemecourt, a sports medicine specialist at Children’s Hospital Boston, are stress fractures in the back, inflammation of growth cartilage, back and neck strain, and nerve damage in the neck and shoulders.

The federal Consumer Product Safety Commission calculated that carrying a 12-pound backpack to and from school and lifting it 10 times a day for an entire school year puts a cumulative load on youngsters’ bodies of 21,600 pounds — the equivalent of six mid-sized cars.


Not surprisingly, one in four students [in a recent study on backpacks and back health] said they had suffered back pain for more than 15 days during the previous year; scoliosis — curvature of the spine — accounted for 70 percent of those with pain. The remaining 30 percent had either low back pain or contractures — continuous, involuntary muscle contractions. Girls faced a greater risk of back pain than boys, and their risk increased with age (and, presumably, years of lugging around their heavy packs).

Brody goes on to provide tips for ways to reduce a backpack's load and minimize a child's risks of developing problems, and her last one is to "never... carry the pack on one shoulder." I have a feeling my mom is smiling, knowingly, as she reads this.

Photo by Elizabeth/Table4Five

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