Healthcare researchers and providers alike are growing increasingly concerned that American kids are suffering from back pain earlier in their lives and in larger numbers than ever before. And experts closest to the problem believe that overweight, improperly designed, and misused backpacks may be a big part of the reason why.
With an estimated 40 million school-age children carrying backpacks in America, it’s not surprising that there are some book bag-related injuries every year. Since 2000, the U.S. Product Safety Commission has reported that children and their backpacks make roughly 7,000 trips to the emergency room annually. However, many observers believe that the real toll is actually far higher since the vast majority of such injuries go unreported and many kids are treated by a family doctor or not treated at all.
While it is not clear how many acute injuries actually result from wearing backpacks as opposed to tripping over them or being hit by them, doctors who treat back problems regularly—especially chiropractic physicians—see worrying signs that heavier backpacks are setting the stage for more serious health issues in the future, including chronic back, neck and shoulder pain. Some chiropractors estimate that as many as 75% to 80% of the teenage patients they treat have postural problems directly related to overweight backpacks.
Across the past ten years, several factors have come together to increase the amount of weight young students are carrying in their book bags:
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recommends that a backpack should not be any heavier than 15% of a child’s body weight. But as early as 2001, researchers at Simmons College in Massachusetts found that 55% of the 345 children they studied were carrying backpacks that exceeded the recommended weight limit, often by a substantial amount. One third of those students said that they had already experienced back pain. Today, the American Chiropractic Association advises parents to limit the weight of a child’s backpack to no more than 5% to 10% of body weight.
If you see any of the following signs, it may be time to lighten the load, help your child choose a different backpack or talk about how it’s being used.
A good quality backpack with proper ergonomic features doesn’t have to be expensive. They’re available at many sporting goods stores and discount outlets. Experts offer the following advice:
Once your child has the right bag, it’s just as important to encourage him or her to use it correctly. Chiropractors and physical therapists generally agree that means wearing it on both shoulders with the straps tightened so that it hangs no more than four inches below the waist.
Using a backpack should not cause any pain or discomfort under normal circumstances. If your child is showing signs of back, neck or should pain, we encourage you to call your chiropractic physician today. In addition to addressing any current problems that your child may be experiencing, your doctor of chiropractic can recommend an exercise program designed to strengthen muscles, and improve posture and coordination. He or she can also offer instruction about good nutrition and sleep habits that will support your child’s healthy development.
Doctors Give Advice to Parents on Selecting a Good Backpack for Their Children. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. August 3, 2011. Accessed August 2011
ACA Offers Backpack Safety Checklist. American Chiropractic Association. August 28, 2007. Accessed August 2011
Protect Young Backs From Too Much Weight: Heavy Backpacks Cause Variety of Health Problems. NBC Home/Education. Accessed August 2011.
Avoid School Strain: Unstuff that BackPack. CNN Health. September 10, 2007. Accessed August 2011.
The Effect of Backpacks on the Lumbar Spine in Children: A Standing Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2010 Jan 1;35(1):83-8. Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, University of California, San Diego, CA. Neuschwander, et. al. Accessed August 2011.