Experts say heavy book bags are unhealthy if worn for too long

Throughout recent years, students have fallen victim to back pain caused by backpacks. With students sometimes taking as many as six classes, transporting their books from class to class can be a hassle.

“There are an increasing number of students with back pain,” Dr. John Van Tassel said.

“Students should make sure they do not carry more than five books at a time.”

Tassel, a chiropractor at Athletic and Family Chiropractic and professor at Tallahassee Community College, said students should invest in backpacks with a greater quality.

He recommended a bag that rolls or one with wide, cushioned straps.

He said having a bag that has narrow straps can dig into shoulders and restrict circulation. Book bags with only one strap cannot supply weight to the appropriate areas of the back. But book bags that have waist straps can distribute the weight of a heavy load more evenly, Van Tassel said.

Although back pain is a valid concern, there are also long-term problems that can arise from prolonged use of heavy backpacks. Scoliosis, for one, occurs when there is an abnormal curvature of the spine. Bones in the spine go side-to-side forming what looks like an “S” or “C” shape on an X-ray.

“There is a greater risk of scoliosis in people who carry more then 45 pounds on their backs,” Dr. Jan Elkjaer Jensen said.

“Heavy backpacks create a curvature in the back.” Jensen is a chiropractor at the Lafayette Chiropractic Clinic in Tallahassee.

He suggested students use ergonomic backpacks to help create better posture.

There are some doctors that disagree with studies that say back pain is caused by backpacks.

Dr. Andrew Haig said in an article for the University of Michigan Health Systems that “There is no good scientific evidence to support the claim that schoolbag load is a contributing factor to the development of low back pain in growing children.”

Haig is the medical director of the University of Michigan Spine Program and the associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation and of surgery at the University of Michigan.

He believes that a person’s activity level and weight has to deal with back pain.

Exercise helps stretch disks in the spine, which places nutrition and oxygen in the area. When nothing is being done to move the spine, a lack of nutrition can cause pain, he said.

Regardless of whether or not back pain comes from toting around a heavy backpack or just being unhealthy, students still have issues with carrying too many books.

“The reason as to why I carry my extra large book bag is because I live a ways from campus,” said Jamahl Grace, a junior political science student from Pensacola. “I hate running back and forth between campus and my place.”

Some professors require students to bring books to class every day. “Every teacher wants all things present at all times,” Grace said.

Van Tassel recommends that students only carry what they need while on campus.

“As a teacher, I would not recommend to other professors to not have their students bring books to class,” he said. “But students should know what is too heavy for them to carry.” For students who don’t know, or would like to find out more information about the effects of wearing heavy bags, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons is just one of the organizations concerned with creating awareness of the danger of wearing heavy backpacks.

Prevent Injuries America goes to schools across the country to inform students, teachers and parents about correctly wearing backpacks.

They also have suggestions on how to wear a backpack correctly on their Web site