How much is too much for your student to carry in a backpack?

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News 12 at 6 o' clock / Friday, Aug. 8, 2014

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW) -- Kids are heading back to school, and with a new school year comes a new load to carry in the backpack. From pens and pencils to binders and books, all of your kids' school stuff can really add up fast.

News 12 is On Your Side with some things you can do to make the load lighter.

Dr. David Cearly, an orthopedic surgeon at GRU, says it's important to take a look at how your kids' backpack is made.

"You want one obviously with two straps. You want to wear it over both shoulders, and you want to make sure the straps aren't too tight, or too loose. You don't want it hanging down below the waist. You want it in the center of the back," he said.

The bag shouldn't be too large for your student either. If it takes up more than 75 percent of your child's back, it's too big.

Wider straps help distribute the load, and make the weight more bearable. He says extra pockets and compartments help distribute weight too.

Before your little one heads out the door to go to school, you may want to double check what's in their book bag, too. We weighed a book bag with just 4 hard backed books and it weighed 18 pounds. For a 50 pound kid, that's more than 35 percent of their body weight.

Dr. Cearly says, that is too much.

"Less than 20% of the child's body weight is what you're looking for," he said

Kristin Martin says her middle school son, Joshua, doesn't have lockers at school, which makes for a heavy load.

Joshua says the load on his back definitely weighs on him.

"Most of the time it hurts. It's like aching when I get home," he said.

Dr. Cearly sees a lot of aching backs in the pediatric orthopedic department at GRU.

"We get frequent complaints of back pain. That's one of the most common reasons people come to see us. Strangely, or maybe not so strangely, we don't get as many complaints in the summer time," he said.

Another way to lighten the load is to pay attention to how you pack

"Something people don't often think of is the way you load the backpack. You want to try to put the heavier items closer to the back, closer to the body and lighter items out as you go away," Dr. Cearly explains.

Dr. Cearly has three kids of his own and he says sometimes it's up to parents to look at what's in the bag.

"Whenever I see the book bag and it looks like they're struggling to pick it up, that's when I go over and test it, pick it up myself. If it's too heavy, we look in there and try to decide if there's something we can remove," Dr. Cearly said.

Dr. Cearly says there is some good news. The majority of the patients they see have short term back pain problems. Heavy back packs have never been shown to lead to any deformity, like scoliosis, or cause any real long term problems.