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Rachel Responds

Backpack weight proves unhealthy for students

Rachel Woodman

April 6, 2012

Professor Sandy Ellis asks: “So what is with all these heavy backpacks students are carrying? How does this affect their lives and bodies?”

Hunching over and steadily stepping is the typical walk style for many students. Most knew college would bring headaches but fewer planned on back aches too. With text books, notebooks, lunch and various materials stuffed into each student’s backpack they resemble turtles more so than humans.

Heavy backpacks may seem like just a necessary evil but those weighty cargo carry-ons can do some real damage. Carrying something heavy causes you to lean forward with your body and your head causing neck and back pain.

Ann Asher from About.com explained that carrying a heavy weight requires a change in posture which affects the spine and over time can cause some lasting damage.

Now, a five pound backpack isn’t going to land you in the hospital with a full body cast. Wearing a backpack in it of itself is OK. It’s the weight of the load that can cause problems. So how heavy is too heavy?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends not carrying more than 10 to 20 percent of your weight in your backpack. This means if you weigh 140 pounds then your backpack should weigh between 14 and 28 pounds and no more.

Walking to campus from a dorm, apartment or car, and then between each class can be tiresome with a heavy pack. Taking steps to lessen your load will help your back, neck and your mood. Look below for some backpack enlightenment.

Save your back and neck by:

  • Lightening up your pack. Only bring what you need with you. Every semester I ask each professor if I should bring my text book to class and most advise me to leave it at home.
  • Keeping some things on campus. Get a locker and keep some of your books on campus, this will give you less to travel with and a smaller distance to travel.
  • Using a backpack not a book bag. Wearing a one strap pack will cause you even greater damage. If you use a book bag then switch the weight between shoulders to balance the strain of its weight.
  • Getting good straps. A thick padded strap is best and using a waist strap will help too.
  • Wearing the heavy stuff against your back. Organize your backpack heavy to light so that the weight is even and easier for your back to handle.

Heavy backpacks have a real effect on students’ health. The back pain can effect posture and cause more permanent issues if severe and left untreated.

If your back pain is affecting your classwork, concentration, sleep or other areas of your life seek out the advice of your doctor. That backpack was created to help you not to hurt you so outsmart it and protect your body.

Thanks for the question, Professor Ellis.

Rachel Woodman is a senior majoring in marketing communications and minoring in journalism. She loves to work hard, play hard, and use clichés! Look for her Facebook page “Rachel Responds” and email her your questions or topic ideas to QuestionsForRachel@live.com.