Back to School, Back to Back Pain - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Published on September 16, 2015

Back to School, Back to Back Pain

A heavy backpack could change a child's posture, compress their spine and potentially inhibit their growth.

A heavy backpack could change a child's posture,
compress their spine and inhibit their growth.

Kids have returned to school and that means they’re back to waddling like turtles with their heavy backpacks slung over their shoulders. As a parent, you may have accepted that your kids have to carry heavy textbooks and binders back and forth to complete school work. However, more and more research is showing how harmful those heavy backpacks really are.

The job of your child’s spine is to keep their body sturdy and upright. But when they’re still young and developing, placing too much weight on their frame could change their posture, compress their spine and potentially inhibit their growth. In fact, a heavy backpack may also contribute to back injuries or problems as they become adults.

Your child’s backpack shouldn’t weigh more than 10 percent of their total body weight, which means if he or she weighs 100 pounds, their bag should weigh no more than 10 pounds. Unfortunately, about 55 percent of American students carry a backpack that is heavier than this guideline.

According to the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission, carrying a 12-pound backpack to and from school and lifting it 10 times a day for an entire school year puts a cumulative load on kids’ bodies of 21,600 pounds, or the weight of six mid-sized cars.

The spine consists of 33 vertebrae with discs in between that act as natural shock absorbers. When a heavy weight, like an over-stuffed backpack, is incorrectly placed on a child’s shoulders, the force can pull them backward. Oftentimes, children will compensate by bending forward at the hips or arch their back, causing the spine to compress unnaturally. It can also cause some children to develop shoulder, neck and back pain.

So how can you tell if your child’s backpack is too heavy? Look at how they’re standing with the backpack on. If they look like they’re bending forward, arching their back, standing with a forward head posture with a rounded upper back and extended neck, it’s likely too heavy.

And then there’s how your child feels wearing the bag -- back or shoulder pain, tingling in their arms, and weakened muscles are also signs their bag is too heavy. You could also simply weigh your child’s backpack and compare it to your their weight to determine if it’s too heavy.

If you decide they’re carrying a load that’s much too heavy, here’s what you can do:

Help Them Pack

When your child finishes their homework, help them pack their supplies back into their backpack. Arrange the heaviest books and binders in the bag closest to their back and make sure they can’t slide around. This will also give you the opportunity to show your child the best way to pack their bag and make sure they’re not carrying around any unnecessary items, adding to the weight.

Make Sure It Fits

If their backpack is hanging loosely from their back, it can pull your child backwards and strain their muscles. The bottom of the backpack should rest in the curve on their lower back and never more than 4 inches below the waistline.

Show Them How to Wear It

Your child may think it looks cool to throw their backpack over one shoulder, but this makes the pain and potential damage even worse – it can cause them to lean to one side to compensate for the weight, curving the spine and triggering pain. They should be wearing both straps over their shoulders so the weight of the bag is evenly distributed. Wearing the bag’s waist strap also helps evenly distribute the weight.

Related Locations

eNewsletter Signup

Our eNewsletters from Crozer-Keystone Health System help keep you up-to-date on your health and well being. View recent editions or sign up to receive our free eNewsletters.