Weighed Down

By Elana Zeltser

Every day at 7:45 a.m., Bronty O’Leary ’13 makes the 0.3-mile trek from her car in the Upper St. Michael’s parking lot to the Seaver Academic Center, carrying all the books and supplies she will need for the day. Again at 3 p.m. she takes the same trip, her backpack still strapped to her shoulders.

“The weight of my backpack constantly hurts my right shoulder,” O’Leary said. “I got an injury in water polo last year, and it makes it so much worse.”

O’Leary, who is on the varsity swimming team, finds the weight of her load even affects her athletic performance.

“When I do strokes, I can feel more pain in the arm I pick up my bag with,” O’Leary said.

Upper School Athletic Trainer Milo Sini said both athletes and non-athletes come to him with the same symptoms: lower back aches or pulled muscles. Also, students feel pain in both thier shoulders and are unclear of the reason why they feel this discomfort. He then assesses the severity of the condition, reccomending some to visit a doctor.

“I see students with lower back pain, which relates to improper carrying of backpacks, books, even musical instruments,” said chiropractor Jacqueline Etessami, D.C. “Carry only as much as you absolutely have to and use your locker.”

Jazzi Marine ’13 also has a previous injury that is only worsened by carrying around her stuffed backpack. Marine pulled a muscle in her back during a dance intensive over the summer and was told by her doctors to use a rolling backpack.

“They said it would be good for my spine and posture,” Marine said. “I tried it for a few days, but the rolling one didn’t work out. There are too many stairs at this school for that.”

It is not just the layout of the school, however, that contributes to the chronic back pain. Many students carry around all their supplies for the entire day because they do not have time to visit their lockers and take out what they no longer need.

“I feel like I can’t take the weight sometimes, but the five minute passing period is too short to get to my locker and next class on time,” Joey Lieberman ’14 said.

The Moore Chiropractic Wellness Centre and National University in Redding, Calif., did a study of 531 high school students and concluded that backpack weight should not exceed more than 10 percent of the students’ body weight.

“Carrying this backpack I should weigh 220 pounds. Trust me, I don’t weight 220 pounds,” said Andrew Meepos ’13 whose backpack weighed in at 22 pounds.

Middle School Athletic Trainer Robert Ruiz faces other concerns when assessing the injuries of students at a younger age.
“Especially at the middle school age, everyone is still growing, and the growth plates in the spine are open,” Ruiz said. “A heavy backpack can compress them.”

Another main concern the trainers have is students carry their backpacks on just one shoulder for convenience or opt for tote bags. Shoulder muscles then have to compensate for unevenly distributed weight. This can lead not only to muscle spasms, but also to curvature in the spine.

“When the backpack isn’t cushioned and worn properly or the adequate size for one’s body height, slouching or compensatory bending occurs to counteract the effects of an unfit backpack,” Etessami said. “It prevents you from carrying yourself upright and puts excessive strain on your lower, mid and upper back.”

However, there are measures that can be taken to prevent the detriments caused by a heavy backpack. 

Sini recommends students make sure always wear both backpack straps secured tightly and evenly. He also advises that students bend down and use their leg muscles to lift up their bags. When packing, put larger or heavier items closer to the body while placing smaller items in front compartments.

“Also, use the waist straps,” Sini said. “Even though they look silly, it’s not meant to be a fashion statement.”