The Fitness Fixer
The Fitness Fixer

Carrying Schoolbooks Is Not the Cause of Back Pain

A recent BBC news article echoed the common idea that children are getting back pain from carrying their books. However, carrying books is not the cause of the pain.

The article continued how children often require "physiotherapy" for their pain. Common programs in physical therapy involve strengthening. An important thing to understand is that carrying your own things would be more strengthening than lifting little weights that often weigh less than the books.

The article mentioned how one of the schools is trying to raise money for more lockers so that children will not have to carry their books between home and school. While physical educations programs are being increasingly cut, and children are getting less exercise, fewer physical skills, and are gaining weight, people still think it is too much exercise for children to carry books.

Heavy backpacks alone don't hurt the back. Carrying them with poor positioning causes pain, and deprives you of what could be built-in exercise and fitness. Carrying books, even heavy books, with good positioning would be healthy and good exercise, not a cause of pain. By contrast, pulling a rolling carrier or bag on wheels while bent over in unhealthy ways can cause the same kind of pain.

One common poor positioning when wearing a backpack is rounding the upper body forward or slouching to the side to offset the weight of the pack. These poor positions are the same that create pain when sitting poorly at a desk, which is another source of the children's pain. If you stop hunching forward or sideways when carrying a backpack or other loads, and stand straight, the pressure on the spine shifts from the spine to the core muscles. It is free exercise.

The second major pain producing bad habit when carrying a backpack is leaning or arching backward - allowing the lower back to increase the inward curve (overarch). Backpacks do not make you arch your back. It is you who allow yourself to be pulled backward by the weight. If you straighten yourself back to nautral spine, and not slouch backward, the compression on the lower back stops. The muscles that pull your spine forward to reduce the backward lean are your abdominal muscles. You would have a free abdominal muscle workout. The action of pulling yourself straight instead of arching backward is the same movement as described in Change Daily Reaching to Get Ab Exercise and Stop Back and Shoulder Pain.

  1. The answer is not to stop carrying books, then go to a gym or physical therapy center to lift weights.
  2. Children need to get stronger. Teaching them healthy carrying will benefit their health, confidence, bone density, and physical ability throughout their lives.
  3. It is fitness as a lifestyle to move and get healthy exercise from your daily life, including carrying your own things in healthy ways.

More Fitness Fixers to learn how to carry loads, books, and backpacks in healthy ways. Instead of compressing and hurting your back under the weight, you get free exercise that makes you stronger and healthier:

Children benefit by strength and movement and can do wonderful physical feats:

Photo by Sarvodaya, Creative Commons
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About the Author


Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.