Health Watch -- Lighten the Load

Health Watch is a Public Service of the Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.


An overloaded school backpack may be good for grades but bad for the child.

School children who look like hunchbacks as they carry the weight of their classes on their shoulders could be setting themselves up for pain or even disability, according to doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

The heavy, overloaded backpacks could cause nerve damage in the shoulders and arms. There's even a medical term for this condition: Rucksack Paralysis.

Dr. Jay Cook, a UT Southwestern pediatric neurologist, says this problem is more widespread than is reported because kids often don't complain about the pain, and if parents notice the symptoms, they may think those aches and pains are caused by something else.

Symptoms of Rucksack Paralysis include pain and tingling in the hands and arms. The problem could become permanent if kids continue carrying overloaded backpacks. Parents need to make sure that backpacks aren't too heavy for children to carry. If a child has to strain to lift a backpack or slouches under its weight, it's too heavy.

To prevent this problem, look for backpacks with a waistband to help distribute the load or get a rolling cart. Never carry a backpack on just one shoulder. Use both straps so the weight is evenly balanced on both shoulders. It probably wouldn't hurt to evaluate a backpack's contents every so often and make sure your child isn't carrying anything unnecessary, like last month's papers or lunch leftovers.

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Oct. 2004

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