Weighing effects of backpacks

Walking through the hallways and up the stairs feels like a workout for  junior Stephanie Mei.

“Every time I walk down the hallway, up the stairs, … I’m like, ‘Gosh, this is so heavy,’” Mei said.

According to Dr. Meredith Ehn, attending physician at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, a sign that a person’s backpack is too heavy is having back, neck or shoulder pain during or after backpack use.  

If a person struggles to pick up and put on the backpack, needs to lean forward while wearing it, develops numbness and tingling in the arms or bruises under the backpack straps, the backpack may be too heavy, Ehn said.

Dr. Oduche Igboechi, assistant professor of orthopedics at the University of Maryland with a specialty in the pediatric spine, said in an email correspondence, “If a heavy backpack or inappropriately worn backpack is used for a prolonged period of time, it can cause chronic back pain, however this is typically transient and improves once appropriate changes are made.”

At the beginning of Mei’s sophomore year, she used a rolling backpack so the weight of her backpack would be off of her shoulders.

“I was just trying to get through the really busy intersection between the Blocks and the SAC … and then I tripped two people in the same hallway,” said Mei. “And they all looked at me [and] looked down [at] my backpack. My rolling backpack was like practically another person.”

After switching to a traditional backpack out of convenience, Mei felt her pain and posture worsen.

If a child does not exercise good posture, wearing a heavy backpack can exacerbate bad posture, physical therapist Karena Wu said.

According to Ehn, a solution to lighten an overly heavy backpack is to make frequent locker trips throughout the school day.

“If you can keep that backpack weight to less than 15 percent of the student’s body weight, it decreases the risk of having back pain from wearing a backpack,” Ehn said. 

At Glenbrook North, students who want a locker can go to the Attendance Office and choose a location for their locker that is most convenientwith their schedules.

“I think when I’m feeling extra tired on a certain day, … I think the backpack just wears me [out] even more,” Mei said.