From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Study Links Long-Term Back Pain to Backpacks

Jeanie Croasmun

While the debate wages on regarding the impact of backpacks on school children, a recent study by the University of California Riverside determined that backpacks can in fact cause long-term pain for children who wear them.

According to the study published in the Journal of Pediatric Orthopedics, the backpacks could be causing permanent back problems for the students. “This is truly alarming. Research has shown that adults with severe back problems often had pain as kids. You can suffer all your life from this kind of injury,” said lead author Dr. David Siambaes.

Nearly 3,500 middle school students, ages 11 through 15, were reviewed for the study. The research, funded by the Children’s Spine Foundation, involved weighing the students and their backpacks, questioning the students on how they used their backpacks and inquiring about any pain the children had. Sixty-four percent of the children reported pain; 21 percent of the children reported that the pain lasted for longer than six months. Nearly all of the students said that they were relieved when they were able to remove their backpacks. Over 40 percent of the students in the survey walked to school wearing their backpacks.

Additionally, as the ratio of backpack-to-child’s weight increased, so did the reports of pain, but since the increase was gradual, researchers were unable to offer a safe backpack-to-child weight ratio. The researchers did indicate, however, that a child who carried a backpack weighing only five percent of his or her body weight was less likely to report pain than a child carrying a pack that weighed 20 percent of his or her body weight.

While the researchers determined that backpacks can cause back pain and possible long-term injury, they also found that the pain existed regardless of how the backpack was worn. Additionally, none of the students in the study attended schools where lockers were provided.

While ergonomics often focuses on making the workplace more suited to the worker, the concept of ergonomics is slowly creeping into the classroom as well. In 2003, the state of New Jersey was the first in the nation to set up a commission specifically to study ergonomics in educational environments, and nationwide, school districts have started to consider alternatives to children lugging books to and from school, either by replacing heavy textbooks with electronic versions of books or by keeping an extra set of books specifically in the classroom while having children leave a copy of the book at their home for homework. Backpack manufacturers in particular have stressed the importance of purchasing a backpack that fits a child properly and ensuring that the backpack is worn as intended and packed in a manner that places the least impact on the wearer’s back.

At the same time, though, more and more schools are also removing lockers from the schools either for space or security purposes leaving students to haul their school work, books, and other items from class to class each day. Additionally, school children are spending more of their days using computers in schools as well as in homes. Unfortunately, due to budget restrictions, in-school computer workstation setups are not always ergonomically suited to the children who are using them. Home computer systems may also not be fitted to the child-sized user.


Sources: Medical News Today; Ergonomics Today