While back pain is a known and widely-studied issue in adults, its prevalence in school-aged children has received similarly little scientific attention. Yet, elementary, middle, and high school students must often carry backpacks that weigh enough to …
The Prevalence of Back Pain in School Kids Who Use Backpacks
While back pain is a known and widely-studied issue in adults, its prevalence in school-aged children has received similarly little scientific attention. Yet, elementary, middle, and high school students must often carry backpacks that weigh enough to cause chronic back issues, poor posture, and even decreased volume in the lungs. Recently, several studies have demonstrated the truths behind childhood back pain and ways to mitigate it.
Are Backpacks Too Heavy for Children?
Recent research supports the claim that children carrying backpack loads of more than 10% of their body weight have a greater risk of developing chronic back pain as well as other issues. An international scientific study found that many school-aged children in Australia, France, Italy, and the United States regularly carried backpacks weighing more than the 10% threshold.
In an additional study involving a random sample of 1540 metropolitan school-aged children, over one-third of the children surveyed reported experiencing back pain. In addition to carrying heavy backpacks, female students and those diagnosed with scoliosis had an even greater chance of suffering from back pain. On the other hand, children with access to school lockers reported less pain.
The number of straps on the backpack had little impact on the respondents’ answers. Children also reported limited physical activity due to back pain; some even took medication to relieve the pain.
Girls who carried purses, in addition to wearing a backpack, reported significantly greater back pain. In addition, adolescents with back pain spent more time watching television than their peers. Over 80% of those surveyed believed that carrying a heavy backpack directly caused their back pain.
Proper Techniques for Carrying a Backpack
The studies indicated several factors that may help reduce back pain in school-aged children. Avoiding carrying heavy loads is the most efficient way to prevent back pain.
Children should take advantage of locker breaks and only carry items necessary for a couple of classes at a time. Children should crouch down and bend their knees when lifting a backpack rather than curve the spine.
While not conclusive, research also supports that carrying the weight differently, e.g., by hand rather than by backpack, may help prevent or reduce back pain. The American Occupational Therapy Association and the American Chiropractic Association offer these additional safe backpack etiquette tips:
- Children should avoid carrying over 10% of their body weight in their backpacks. For example, an 8th-grader weighing 120 pounds should be carrying no more than 12 pounds on their backs.
- Place the heaviest objects at the back of the backpack.
- Make sure the items fit as snugly as possible to minimize back pain due to shifting weight.
- Adjust the shoulder straps so they fit snugly over your child’s shoulders, and the backpack doesn’t drag your child backward. The bottom of the backpack should be less than four inches below your child’s waist.
- Children should avoid carrying backpacks that are slung over one shoulder, as it can cause spinal pain and general discomfort.
- Encourage your child to carry only necessary items in their backpack. Additional items can be carried in hand.
- Look for backpacks with helpful features such as multiple compartments for even weight distribution, padded straps to protect the shoulders and neck, and waist belts.
- If your child’s school allows, consider a roller pack, which rolls across the floor like travel luggage.
- If problems continue, talk to your child’s teacher or principal about implementing paperback textbooks, lighter materials, or digital versions.
Chiropractic Care Can Help
If your child continues to experience back pain, contact the doctors at PMR today. Chiropractic care benefits many adults with spinal discomfort, and our expert chiropractors can provide tailored treatments for your child.
The chiropractors at PMR can also recommend safe exercises to improve back strength and additional advice on proper nutrition to build strong bones, muscles, joints, healthy posture, and more. So if your child is experiencing back pain from carrying a backpack, give PMR a call today!