Children’s Backpack Misuse Leads to Spinal Problems
by Dr. Gina Marino
Back pain is pervasive among American adults, but a new and disturbing trend is emerging. Young children are suffering from back pain much earlier than previous generations and the use of overweight backpacks is a contributing factor, according to the American Chiropractic Association (ACA). The disproportionate amounts of weight they carry in their backpacks—often slung over just one shoulder—is a leading cause in this new trend.
A recent study found that the average child carries a backpack that would be the equivalent of a 39-pound burden for a 176-pound man, or a 29-pound load for a 132-pound woman. Of those children carrying heavy backpacks to school, 60 percent had experienced back pain as a result.
The results of these types of studies are especially important as more and more school districts— many of them in urban areas—remove lockers from the premises, forcing students to carry their books with them all day long.
Four Steps to Safe Backpack Use
Limiting the backpack’s weight and urging the use of ergonomically correct backpacks can help. The American Chiropractic Association offers the following tips to prevent the needless pain that backpack misuse could cause students.
Step 1: Choose Right
Choosing the right size backpack is the most important step to safe backpack use. Bigger is not necessarily better. The more room there is in a backpack, the more a child will carry and the heavier the backpack will be. The backpack should never hang more than four inches below the waistline. A backpack that hangs too low increases the weight on the shoulders, causing a child to lean forward when walking.
Although backpacks with wheels have increased in popularity, the ACA is now recommending that they be used cautiously and on a limited basis by only those students that are not physically able to carry a backpack. Some school districts have begun banning the use of rollerpacks because they clutter hallways, resulting in dangerous trips and falls.
Step 2: Pack Right
Make sure the child’s backpack weighs no more than 5 to 10 percent of their body weight. A heavier backpack will cause them to bend forward in an attempt to support the weight on his or her back, rather than on the shoulders, by the straps. If the backpack is still too heavy, talk to the child’s teacher. Ask if the heaviest books can be left at school, and only lighter hand-out materials or workbooks get brought home.
A backpack with individualized compartments helps in positioning the contents most effectively. Make sure that pointy or bulky objects are packed away from the area that will rest on the child’s back.
Step 3: Lift Right
Face the pack, bend at the knees, and use both hands to check the weight of the pack. Lift with the legs. Apply one shoulder strap and then the other. Don’t sling the backpack onto one shoulder.
Step 4: Wear Right
Urge students to wear both shoulder straps. Lugging the backpack around by one strap can cause the disproportionate shift of weight to one side, leading to neck and muscle spasms, as well as low-back pain. Wide, padded straps are important. Non-padded straps are uncomfortable and can dig into a child’s shoulders. The shoulder straps should be adjustable so the backpack can be properly fitted to the body—snug, but not too tight. Straps that are too loose can cause the backpack to dangle uncomfortably and cause spinal misalignment and pain. When the backpack has a waist strap, use it.
Chiropractic Care Can Help
If any pain or discomfort is experienced from backpack use, chiropractic spinal adjustments can help. Doctor of Chiropractic are licensed and trained to diagnose and treat patients of all ages and will use a gentler type of treatment for children. In addition, they can also prescribe exercises designed to help children develop strong muscles, along with instruction in good nutrition, posture and sleeping habits.
Dr. Gina Marino, DC, has her own practice, The Center for the Alignment of Body, Mind & Spirit, located at 2050 Wantagh Ave., Wantagh. She and her team offer the finest quality care using modern chiropractic techniques. For more information, call 516-221-3500 or visit