Feature Archive

Pain in the Backpack

How heavy backpacks are weighing down today's kids.

WebMD Feature

Alexa Sloan, a slim 16-year-old, carries her world in a backpack. Slung fashionably over her shoulder, it contains several textbooks, her notebooks, day planner, lunch, posters, and school projects such as the 3-D model of a cell membrane that she created for biology class.

Sloan, a sophomore at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, MD, typically carries 25 to 30 pounds in her black one-strap backpack. Too heavy, she knows, but she?s reluctant to forego the convenience offered by her backpack.

"I have shoulder pains. There?s a sore, pulling feeling, and I worry about my spine being bent over all crooked under the weight," she says. "But I don?t really have a choice. There?s not enough time between classes to go to my locker."

Although Sloan has considered -- but for now rejected -- seeking medical attention, many other young people and their worried parents are consulting physicians about muscle strains thought to be due to carrying heavy backpacks.

"We are seeing students in the fourth and fifth grades who are complaining about backaches, fatigue, and [physical] stress," says Russell Windsor, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at New York City's Hospital for Special Surgery. "They just don't have the body strength to remain erect under these very substantial loads, and it puts their skeletons under substantial duress."