Backpacks and back pain

It’s the season of back to school.

Children have been prepared with new clothes and supplies as the anticipation of a new year has risen. With tear in eye, many parents are sending their young ones off to experience their first day. They’ve cautioned them to cross the street safely, avoid strangers, choose good friends and work hard yet we completely overlook one of the most eminent dangers: their backpack.

We are finding that neck, shoulder, and back pain are increasingly more common among young children.

Why the sudden increase? Children frequently over pack their backpacks. The excessive weight can strain young muscles as they are overused. In addition, carrying the backpack over one shoulder, though popular and convenient, causes a great amount of stress on the back.

So how do you know if your child’s backpack is too heavy?

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, backpacks should not weigh more than 15 – 20% of your child’s body weight (other sources say 10 – 15%). There is some variation in this depending on your child’s levels of strength and fitness; however, it is a good general rule to follow.

Posture is often one of the major reasons for back, neck, and shoulder problems.

To avoid pain aggravated by poor posture, be sure to have your child use both of the shoulder straps on a backpack. Some backpacks come with a waist or hip strap that helps to distribute some of the weight of the pack.

If a child has access to a locker, it is best to keep items stored there rather than to carry them to every class throughout the day. If this is unavoidable, a rolling backpack is a better alternative provided that the school permits it.

Following this advice will give your child a good start at avoiding neck, shoulder, and back pain. However, if you do experience pain, a physical therapist can help provide you with exercises to alleviate the pain and prevent further injury.

Click here for a video on backpack safety.

Photo by Courtney Winston