Chiropractors, pediatricians, and orthopedic surgeons alike agree that backpacks are a problem for your child’s spine. While alone they may not cause major problems, overloading and improper carrying of a backpack can lead to headaches, neck, shoulder, and lower back pain.
An article published in the orthopedic medical journal Spine stated, “Of the1,122 backpack users, 74% were classified as having back pain, validated by significantly poorer general health, more limited physical function, and more bodily pain”.
How heavy is too heavy?
While healthcare professionals do not agree on the exact weight, the consensus is that the contents of your child’s backpack should not weigh more than 15% of your child’s body weight. The majority of the healthcare professionals agree that if the contents of the backpack weigh more than 15% of the child’s weight, this could lead to headaches and other spinal discomfort; not to mention aggravating pre-existing spinal conditions such as scoliosis.
As an example, a 60-pound child should be limited to carrying no more than 9 pounds; an 80-pound child, 12 pounds; and a 100-pound pre-adolescent should carry no more than 15 pounds.
So, how do we lighten the load?
It is important to weigh your child’s backpack at least once a week. If it exceeds 15% of your child’s weight, then work with your child to evaluate their backpack and “lighten the load”. The “extra” book, binder, electronic device or water bottle can easily add a hefty and unnecessary extra 10 pounds.
Proper loading and carrying
The heaviest items should rest against the back, which means loading them first and distribute the rest of the contents evenly. While your child or teen may think nothing of carrying their backpack slung over one shoulder, the truth is that this fashion statement is damaging to their developing spine; one shoulder is being required to carry a burden that both shoulders and the back should be sharing. The only proper way to carry a backpack is with both straps over the shoulders and the backpack resting against the lower back.
Function VS Fashion
Your first priority when purchasing a backpack is to select function over fashion. This request may be easier said than done but years of using a fashion backpack can only lead to improper spinal alignment, poor posture and eventually pain for your child or teen.
When looking for a better functional backpack, look for one that meets a few criteria:
- 1. The backpack fits properly the size should be proportional to the size of the child; the height of the backpack should be no more than ¾ of the length between the child’s shoulder blades and waist. If the backpack is larger than that, this could invite the child to fill it to capacity which is not good for their health or safety.
- 2. Wide, padded, adjustable straps (for proper positioning on the back)
- 3. Look for a backpack with a hip strap or lumbar (low back) pillow. The hip strap when used, can distribute a portion of the weight to the hips, easing the load on the spine and shoulders. The lumbar pillow will provide the necessary back support to the lower back region where the greatest portion of backpack weight is being carried.
- 4. When shopping for the right backpack, the more support you buy, the less spinal stress your child or teen will carry.
Are roller bags the answer?
Although one might think that they would be taking weight off your child’s spine and shoulders, it should be noted that an empty roller bag may weigh up to 80% more than an empty backpack. Roller bags run larger, inviting the child to overload their extra space as much as 50 lbs.. Although these bags will be rolled, don’t forget that your child or teen (and their developing spine) are still at risk when they haul their bag up or down stairs or retrieve it from the back seat of the car.
Symptoms of Poor Backpack Loading or Carrying:
- Aching of the shoulders, neck or back
- Pain, tingling, weakness or numbness in the neck, arms or hands
- Hunched Posture
- Red marks and creases on the shoulders
- Struggling to put on or take off the backpack
Dr. Grace Syn is a holistic health expert and has been in private practice in Redondo Beach since 1993. She specializes in finding the root cause of health issues (with specific testing) and provides families in the South Bay natural, effective options to resolving health problems without drugs or surgery. For more information, visit www.SynChiropractic.com or email Dr. Syn at email@example.com