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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Weighed Down By the Backpack? Tips from Dr. Bergin in the Statesman

The bulging book bag is common sight for parents. But, did you know that these heavy bags can cause aches and pains for your youngster?

Dr. Barbara Bergin of Texas Orthopedics was recently interviewed by Austin American Statesman reporter, Nicole Villalpando, about how to lighten the load. You can check out the article on or read the excerpt below.

Weighed down by the backpack? Follow our tips.

What is in this backpack? Rocks?

That's how I felt all last year when my now eighth-grader, Ben, would come off the bus and hand me his backpack. I would try to sling it over my shoulder and carry it the rest of the way home. It made me less than perpendicular to the ground and, even on the coldest day, I was sweating and breathing heavily all the way home.

How was he carrying it on his back all day long?

Out of curiosity, I weighed one of his two bags. (He's on an A-day, B-day schedule at his school and has a different bag for each day.) It weighted in at 22 pounds, and there wasn't a book inside. For all four classes on his A-day, he had a different 1-inch to 2-inch binder with tons of papers stuffed inside. He also had a spiral notebook or composition book for each subject, plus a plastic pencil box with pens, markers, colored pencils, pencils and an eraser. Then he had his phone and his house key. That was all.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that backpacks not be heavier than 10 percent to 20 percent of a child's body weight. At 132 pounds, the 22 pounds was only 16 percent of Ben's weight, but he was complaining about his back every day, and his posture wearing that bag made him look like the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates there are more than 7,300 backpack-related injuries treated by doctors and hospitals annually.

Dr. Barbara Bergin, an orthopedic surgeon at Texas Orthopedics, says she's seen backpacks causing injuries including strains to backs, shoulders and thumbs. She doesn't see a lot of them because often parents don't take their kids to a doctor for this kind of injury unless the pain is severe. Sometimes, though, parents will think their kids are having chronic pain because of sports when it might be repetitive strain from a backpack.

In kids who are having severe pain, she's prescribed a rolling bag and the use of the elevator.

Bergin carried around a big backpack, loaded with typical items kids put into their bags to make it weigh about 20 pounds, and even this doctor lifts weights and rides horses was hurting. She's much more comfortable advising that backpacks weigh less than 10 percent of the ideal body weight for a child's height. (Just because a kid is overweight doesn't mean he can handle more weight on his back.)

Here are some suggestions from Bergin and the American Academy of Pediatrics on how to lighten those bags.

Choose the right bag. Even if you've already bought your bag for the year, assess if it's right for your child. If not, it's worth getting a new one. You want the bag itself to be lightweight. You want a bag that has two wide shoulder straps and a padded back. It should not go past your child's waist. A strap that goes across the waist or across the chest is also helpful for keeping the weight off the back.

Use the bag correctly. That means use both shoulder straps and make sure they are tight against the body and hold the pack 2 inches above the waist.

Pack it correctly. Use all the compartments you can to distribute the weight load. Put the heaviest things low and in the center. 
Lighten up. What do you really need to carry in your backpack? Many elementary school kids
might just need a folder for papers and homework, a planner and a maybe a library book and
a snack. Go through the backpack once a week to take out old papers and toys. For older kids,
also go through the bag weekly as well as those binders. Does he need to tote every paper back
and forth, or can he keep only the most current things in the binder and the rest at home? Can
she ditch the heavy binders for a folder with brads and pockets or a lighter plastic binder? Can
she double up and have one binder for each day or one binder for extracurriculars and a binder
each for the core subjects? Does he need a whole pencil box, or will a few pencils, pens and an
eraser do it?
Make pit stops. Some schools still let kids use a locker. If your child does have access to a
locker, store the backpack in the locker and tell him to just take what he needs to each class.
Use a purse or a pencil bag for supplies.
Work with teachers and schools. If every teacher is saying you need a binder, ask if there are
binder checks and what has to be in there. Can you assign multiple subjects to each binder? If
your school doesn’t use lockers, ask why. If your school is still using textbooks, can she keep a
set at home and have one at school instead of bringing it back and forth?
Don’t ignore pain, tingling or numbness in the arms, legs or back.
Reassess what your child is carrying and see the doctor.

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