Backpacks and back pain

by dr.g

Your Child’s Health:  Having the Right Backpack and Using it Correctly Now May Prevent Big Problems Later


Image by slgckgc via Flickr

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.

Short-Term Injuries and Longer-Term Concerns

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.

Why the Heavier Bags?

Across the past ten years, several factors have come together to increase the amount of weight young students are carrying in their book bags:

•    Increases in the amount of homework being assigned to students at a younger age typically mean more heavy books carried between home and school.

•    A trend toward removing lockers and individual desks from schools in many cases requires kids to carry all their belongings with them during the day.

•    Reduced time between classes or fewer trips to the locker can mean heavier loads for students.

•    Longer school days or increased participation in before-school and after-school activities often translates into more supplies and equipment as well as more time wearing the backpack.

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 painToday, 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.

Warning Signs

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.

If your are in pain or just don’t feel your best most days, call us to make an appointment or to see how we may be able to help.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jesica March 3, 2012 at 5:53 pm

We all have this problems from child days. But what to do now, that is the big problem…


dr.g March 6, 2012 at 3:09 am

Improper use over time often leads to postural problems. Chiropractors excel at determining which muscles, joints and other structures are short and imbalanced and through adjustments, massage, stretching and postural exercise can help restore more normal function and position, often leading to the elimination and or improvement of the pain syndrome, as well as better posture and well being.


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