Backpacks = Back Pain

9 Ways to Take the Load Off this School Year!

An interview with Scott Bautch, DC

Back to school means shopping for school supplies and packing up those backpacks. But have you ever weighed your child’s backpack? You might be surprised.

More kids are complaining about back pain, and according to the American Chiropractic Association (ACA), wearing a heavy backpack to school every day is oftentimes a big contributing factor.

"In my own practice, I have noticed a marked increase in the number of young children who are complaining about back, neck, and shoulder pain," said Scott Bautch, DC, DACBOH, CCST, CCSP, from the ACA's Council on Occupational Health. "The first question I ask these patients is, 'Do you carry a backpack to school?' Almost always, the answer is 'yes.'"

In fact, around 5,400 injuries from wearing heavy backpacks were treated in emergency rooms during 2013, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

It’s easy to see why carrying a heavy backpack all day would cause spinal issues, especially since kids typically sling their backpack over just one shoulder, which puts further stress on the spine.

The problem gets even worse when school districts remove lockers from the schools. Students are then forced to carry all of their textbooks and notebooks throughout the day.

It’s an unnatural burden to place on young, growing bodies, though. A back pack should not weigh more than 10% of a child’s total body weight, the ACA has stated. That means for an 80 pound child, their backpack shouldn’t weigh more than 8 lbs., or for a 120 lbs. teenager, no more than 12 lbs. But in reality, backpacks can weigh in excess of 20 to 30 lbs., oftentimes more.

If you start to notice you’re child having back pain and posture problems, speak with your doctor or chiropractic. There are plenty of safe, gentle treatments to help children feel better, as well as exercises to improve their posture and strengthen their back muscles.

Get the Right Gear

Getting the right kind of backpack can make a serious difference in protecting a child’s spinal health from the outset, though, so keep these things in mind when shopping for your kid’s new backpack this year.

Bigger is not better. Think about it – the bigger the backpack, the more books can fit, which means extra, unnecessary weight. A backpack should never be wider than the child’s torso, either. It puts uneven stress on the back and shoulders.

A good backpack:

  • Has wide, padded straps to protect the shoulders. They should be fully adjustable.
  • Has a padded back, which protects the child from sharp book corners and bulky objects stored inside.
  • Has plenty of pockets. Kids need extra compartments to store their sharp pencils and fragile objects.

Rollerpacks have grown very popular in recent years. They look like carryon bags people tow around airports. Rollerpacks are useful because they take the stress off the back entirely, although the ACA has stated they should really only be used for kids who physically can’t wear a normal backpack. Some school districts are even banning rollerpacks because people can easily trip on them when walking down hallways.

3 Ways to Wear Your Backpack

  1. Before your child goes to school, put their backpack on a scale. It shouldn’t weigh more than 10% of their body weight. Any more weight means your child will slump over to ease the burden off their shoulders, which is how back problems and posture issues start.
  2. Keep an eye on how low the back pack hangs, too. It shouldn’t go more than four inches past their waistline. Any lower than that and the child will start to lean forward.
  3. It may look stylish, but wearing a backpack on one shoulder isn’t good for the spine and can cause painful muscle spasms in the neck. Urge your child to wear both straps and help them learn to adjust the straps so they fit tight and snug. Loose straps cause the backpack to swing from side to side, which can lead to spinal misalignment.

Take a Load Off

Reducing the total weight is a primary concern. If you notice your child keeps coming home with a heavy backpack, see what textbooks and notebooks they are carrying. There are always ways to reduce the load, while still getting all that homework done.

  • Heavy, multi-subject notebooks and binders are convenient but will grow very heavy through the school year, as kids collect and archive their handouts and old homework.
  • Use thinner notebooks and an organized folder system, so your child can take home only what they need on a given day.
  • Speak with teachers about using handouts instead of textbooks, so they don’t have to carry them home every night. Most modern textbooks come with electronic versions for this specific reason, so don’t hesitate to ask.


Updated on: 08/19/15
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