Pupils from Grovetown Middle School make their way to the buses after school . Doctors have determined that a bookbag should not weigh more than 15 percent of a child's weight.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Back pains or headaches with some Columbia County pupils might not be coming from overzealous horseplay or staring at television too long. It could be from lugging bookbags to and from school.
"It's so heavy," Evans High School junior Audrey Posey said. "My back hurts by the end of the day."
The 17-year-old said she has a locker, but she carries a 20-pound backpack around her school's campus all day.
Dr. Kathryn Webb, a Martinez chiropractor, said she is treating more and more children suffering from injuries associated with carrying backpacks that are too heavy for their frame.
"It's not so much that they lift the backpack one time and suddenly they hurt," she said. "Everyday, all day, in and out, off the bus. It's the repetitive stress of carrying those heavy backpacks that are getting them into trouble."
Heavy bookbags routinely worn on the shoulders can cause a repetitive stress injury that can manifest as muscle tension, headaches and back pain, Webb said.
"Those heavy loads actually sprain the spine, but the spine can't move that far like, say, an ankle," Webb said. "So, all of those muscles around the spine begin to tighten to give it more support."
Gabriel Flohr, 12, a seventh-grader at Grovetown Middle School had a backpack that weighed 12 pounds.
Photo by Donnie Fetter
No one should carry more than 15 percent of their body weight in a bookbag, Webb said. For example, a 100-pound child should carry no more than a 15-pound bookbag.
Although she couldn't provide an exact patient count, Webb said she is treating more children, especially middle schoolers, from injuries related to excessively heavy bookbags.
After receiving many parent complaints about the heaviness of bookbags, Riverside Middle School Principal Don Putnam instituted rules to keep children from shouldering too much weight.
"The reason they were too heavy is that, instead of keeping books in their locker, they would keep everything in their bookbag," Putnam said. "There was no reason for a child to have a 50-pound bookbag."
Now, Riverside Middle pupils can carry bookbags to and from school, but they must keep them in their locker during the day, he said. The pupils are given several locker breaks throughout the day and are not allowed to carry more than two periods of books during school at any time.
The new rules have met little resistance, Putnam said.
"I've probably talked to maybe eight kids that miss carrying around their bookbag," he said. "But when you explain to them that this is just a way for them to learn to be a little more organized and save their spine, they adapt to it."
Grovetown Middle School Principal Carolyn Fries upholds a similar policy.
Like Riverside Middle, Grovetown Middle pupils must put their bookbags in their locker once they arrive at school.
They can retrieve them only when they leave.
"Carrying all of your books from class to class is just unnecessary," Fries said. "That's why we don't allow it and schedule enough locker breaks so pupils only have to take the book they need to their class."
Some schools, such as Euchee Creek Elementary, allow pupils to use rolling backpacks to keep weight off their spines.
In addition to spine compression, heavy bookbags can lead to falls, said Donavon Reimche, a physical therapist for the Medical College of Georgia.
"There is a potential for falls and balance problems," Reimche said. "You can fall from a bike because a backpack is too heavy and it throws your balance off. There is definitely people who have fallen getting up the bus steps because they were unbalanced."
Some doctors believe repeated carrying of heavy bookbags can lead to stunted growth, Reimche said.
"The conjecture is that they could effect the growth of kids, because you're putting abnormal pressures on them," he said. "This is a concern."
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