Heavy packs can be a pain in the back

Andrew Charlton, 5, struggles under the weight of a pack

A backpack bulging with books and school supplies may be a sign of a student who is aiming to make the honor roll, but doctors at UT Southwestern warn it can also cause back strain and even nerve damage.

A condition called Rucksack Paralysis is caused by the strain on shoulders and arms. Symptoms include pain and tingling in the hands and arms. The problem could become permanent if kids continue to sport packs that are too heavy.

“If the child is straining or slouching, that is a sign the pack is too heavy,” said Dr. Kevin Gill, Co-Director of the medical center’s Spine Center. “You can often lighten the load by ensuring that kids don't carry anything in their packs that isn't necessary.”

In addition, Dr. Gill, an orthopaedic surgeon, recommends avoiding slinging a backpack over just one shoulder.

“Use a pack with a waistband and carry it with both straps to distribute the load,” Dr. Gill said. “Or you may want to consider a rolling backpack or luggage cart.”

– Russell Rian / September 2011

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