A father’s instinct told Dr. Igor Yusupov that watching his three kids tote 20- to 30-pound backpacks wasn’t good for them.
But it was the Arizona Brain & Spine Center neurosurgeon’s treatment of veterans, who have carried 80-pound backpacks for a few years in the military and suffered early spine degeneration, that caused him to raise concerns about the weight of children’s backpacks.
The soldiers, Yusupov said, were being seen with arthritis in their spine at earlier ages than expected. The spine of a 50-year-old is expected to have some degenerative changes, but not the spine of a young man, he said.
Yusupov attributed the spine degeneration in soldiers to the heavy backpacks they were toting.
“It became evident that the backpacks we impose on kids who are still developing is completely unacceptable,” he said.
Students, he said, should carry no more than 15 percent of their weight. So a 100-pound child should not be carrying more than 15 pounds, but the weight of textbooks and other school essentials often exceed that, he said.
His concern is that the micro trauma faced by overburdensome backpacks carried by students five days a week also could lead to accelerated arthritis. Although there has not been a definitive study on backpack weight leading to early arthritis, Yusupov said, “there have been studies showing that stressing young spines leads to this sort of (degeneration.)”
Solutions start with the grown-ups
The solutions, he said, will take parents and schools working together.
His suggestion is that parents and school officials eliminate the backpack burden through possible digitization of textbooks or some other digital method.
He urged parents to “be involved at the PTO level with this issue. Maybe it’s time to do what needs to be done so students are not carrying five or six textbooks back and forth.”
In the meantime, Yusupov offers these tips:
A better backpack plan
- Allow rolling school backpacks. Many schools have banned rolling backpacks for many reasons: They don’t fit it into lockers, they create a walking hazard for other students and they may harm other students by being slung around. But rolling bags are easier on the spine, Yusupov said.
- Buy packs with thicker straps. That may improve pressure placed on the trapezius muscle, he said. Wider straps redistribute the weight of the bag.
- Encourage children to use both straps. Some kids prefer to weight the backpack on one shoulder, but that’s a bad idea. “That will lead to imbalanced posture of the spine,” he cautioned.
- Shop for a lightweight backpack. “The backpack itself should be made of lighter material. A backpack that already weighs 5 pounds before you add books is already too heavy,” he pointed out.
- Carry some books in your hands. This will lessen the pressure on the spin, though it’s not a perfect solution, he said.
Children and teens usually quickly recover from the muscle strain caused by heavy backpacks once they take them off. But Yusupov recommends ice, if needed.