Backpacks and Back Pain in Children

Each school year millions of children walk to, from, and around school carrying backpacks filled with books and materials. Parents should be aware that overly stressing the back with a heavy backpack could cause back pain in their child. Consult with your 22 Health Doctor to see what suggestions they have on safety with backpacks and your children.

How Kids’ Backs Respond to Backpacks
Using a backpack allows a child to carry a number of schoolbooks and items in a practical way, distributing the heavy load across the back and shoulder muscles. The risk, however, is overload, which can strain the back, neck, or shoulders.

The back will compensate for any load applied to it for an extended period of time. A heavy weight carried in backpacks can:

  •     Distort the natural curves in the spine, causing muscle strain and irritation to the spinal joints
  •     Lead to rounding of the shoulders
  •     Cause a person to lean forward, reducing balance and making it easier to fall

Habitually carrying backpacks over one shoulder will make muscles strain to compensate for the uneven weight. The spine leans to the opposite side, stressing the middle back, ribs, and lower back more on one side than the other. This type of muscle imbalance can cause muscle strain, muscle spasm, and back pain in the short term and speed the development of back problems later in life if not corrected.
Tips to Prevent Back Pain from Kids’ Backpacks:

  •     Lightweight material (canvas as opposed to leather)
  •     Two padded, wide (2-inches), adjustable shoulder straps on the backpack
  •     Padded back
  •     Individualized compartments
  •     Waist belt to redistribute the weight of the backpack from the shoulders and back to the pelvis
  •     Wheels so that the backpack can be pulled rather than carried
  •     Consider using a separate bag for the child’s laptop or other heavier electronic items

Sources: The above story is based on materials provided by:

Cottalorda J, Bourelle S, Gautheron V, “Effects of Backpack Carrying in Children,” Orthopedics, Nov 2004
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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