Backpacks: Tips to avoid pain and discomfort going back to school

Tuesday, September 04, 2012 by: Dr. Daniel Zagst
Tags: back to school, backpacks, discomfort

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(NaturalNews) With school underway or just around the corner, it's important to consider your child's workload. Not only will they have new classmates, extra-curricular obligations, and homework; but an increasing number of students are experiencing neck, shoulder, and low back pain. The culprit: backpacks. Surprisingly, 14,000 children ages 5-18 required hospitalization due to backpack-related injuries in 2011, this is compared with 7,000 reported in 2001. Back pain at an early age can predispose someone to suffer in the future if not addressed. Proper fit, distribution, and low weight can eliminate an early onset of back pain in your student and improve their spinal health.

Effects of a heavy backpack

If a backpack is too heavy, it will cause excessive stress on the muscles and joints of a growing child. The longer an overweight backpack is worn, the longer it will take for a child's spine to correct itself, and the more likely they are to experience some type of pain. In a study of children who wore an overweight backpack to school, 60% of them experienced some sort of pain as a result. Another study utilizing MRI to measure the effects of a heavy backpack on the intervertebral discs in the lumbar spine found that it significantly compressed the discs and is responsible for a significant amount of back pain in children. Some kids have to carry around backpacks weighing 20-30 pounds or more. Although a heavy backpack is directly related to the development of pain and disc compression, there are other factors to take into account.

Improper fit leads to imbalance

Proper fitting of a backpack is just as important as its weight. If a child is carrying a backpack using only one shoulder strap, it creates torsion in the spine that progresses to muscular imbalances and postural abnormalities. When using both straps, ensure the backpack doesn't hang more than 5 inches below the waistline. Children with backpacks hanging below their waist experience more pressure on their shoulders. This leads to shoulder and neck pain as well as a forward leaning posture to compensate for the added load.

How to fit a backpack

There are numerous ways to ensure a child has a comfortable backpack that won't cause them pain or discomfort. First of all, ensure the weight of their backpack is no more than 10% of their body weight. Many states have passed legislation to ensure the students have lighter backpacks by encouraging schools to decrease book loads or create homework assignments that don't require a heavy textbook. If there is an issue, contact your child's teacher and ask if there are other options. Next, find a backpack that is ergonomic. Ergonomic backpacks have wider shoulder straps to distribute weight evenly and may also have added compartments to place books and supplies so its contents are evenly distributed. Lastly, make sure the backpack fits comfortably and the shoulder straps are adjusted to the right height. Encourage them to use both shoulder straps and avoid "dangling" the backpack with loose straps.

Pain is not normal, get it checked!

If at any point your child begins to experience neck, shoulder, or low back pain due to carrying their backpack to and from school, re-examine their backpack and determine if there is anything you could change about the load distribution and/or weight of the bag. If there seems to be no other options, contact the student's teachers and ask them if they have noticed any causative factors like poor posture. Back pain is something no child should experience and needs to be addressed immediately to prevent further damage. Your family chiropractor is very knowledgeable on the subject of back pain and can provide valuable resources for finding a solution.

Sources for this article include:

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2010 Jan 1;35(1):83-8.
Work. 2009;32(3):351-60.

About the author:
Dr. Daniel Zagst is a chiropractic physician at Advanced Health & Chiropractic in Mooresville, NC. He has a BS in Professional Studies of Adjunctive Therapies, Doctorate of Chiropractic from NYCC, and an Advanced Certificate in Sport Science and Human Performance. Find out more at

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