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Heavy book bags: Tips to ease student back pain

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Buying new school supplies is part of the fun of going back to school, but parents beware, kids usually carry around too much on their backs. Book bags often serve as a catch-all and for that reason, they’re also a source of chronic back pain.

"There's not a backpack big enough, people are using rolling suitcases now and that's a trend, even in schools, they're starting to use the rolling backpacks just because there's too much and it's too big,” said Danny Dalton, a father and law student.

Not every school allows rolling backpacks or even assigns lockers to students. It’s something Dalton is keeping in mind as his five-year-old daughter enters kindergarten.

"A little bit, I mean, the amount of homework they have and all the supplies they need to bring, the projects and then at that age, going into Kindergarten they're so little still, the backpack itself is bigger than the child itself, it's almost touching the ground,” Dalton said.

Lower back pain is not uncommon in teenagers and children, according to Dr. Robert Murphy, an orthopedic surgeon at MUSC. He said wearing book bags improperly is largely to blame.

"There's three really important things I tell parents when they come into my office and they ask me about backpacks. The first, you want to make sure your child's backpack is fitting appropriately. They want to have two shoulder straps and the straps want to be wide and fitting right across the shoulders,” Murphy said.

He said the second thing to know, bags should never hang low.

"When we look at you from the side here, you can see the carrying portion of the bag is down below your waistline causing the gravity of that bag to pull you backwards,” he said. “So, the most common thing I talk to moms and dads about is adjusting the front straps.”

Lastly, how things are placed inside the backpack is a detail Murphy said should not be overlooked.

"For kids that have to carry heavy loads on a daily basis, we tell them to make sure the heaviest items are in the bottom and center portion of the backpack,” he said. “That way the center of the load is closer to their center of gravity."

Murphy offered parents some reassurance, he said heavy backpacks do not cause spinal conditions like scoliosis. He said treating back pain is not complicated, normally requiring rest, taking anti-inflammatories, or recommending daily stretching exercises.

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