By Dr. Kyle Peacock
Image courtesy of Purestock / Thinkstock
Kids' Back Pain Caused by Weighty Backpacks
One of the most common necessities of a student is the backpack. Backpacks were intended to carry books, writing utensils, and maybe a lunch, earning the other title "book bag."
Nowadays, we frequently see laptop computers, phones, clothes and other assorted items crammed into a backpack, too.
According to USA Today, the backpack industry is a $2 billion business. Backpacks are marketed at various levels ranging from a small, no-frills $15 pack to a $695 pack with a built-in solar panel to charge electronic devices.
Unfortunately, in the attempt to drive business, health concerns and safety are cast aside.
Backpacks have blossomed into a style accessory. The "look" that students are trying to attain, however, can damage their nerve supply and overall health.
An article in the journal Orthopedics discussed several studies that dealt with the load of backpacks and the structural spinal deformity that takes place as a result. The combined studies were able to link both backpack weight and the amount of time carrying the backpack to structural changes in both the cervical spine and the shoulder.1
Heavy loads placed in backpacks forces the wearer's head and neck to crane forward, which can causeforward head posture. Forward head posture places direct pressure on the anterior side of the spinal cord, thereby altering physiology and normal neural pathways.
Another study demonstrated the harmful effects of a single-strapped backpack versus a double-strapped backpack. Researchers measured a sizeable difference in gait analysis when comparing the two.2 Their study showed a lateral bending of the spine and a rising of the shoulder in the single-strapped backpacks. These packs were easily identified as a cause of back pain in children.
Further study in the load of the backpack on a child's spine demonstrated shocking results.
Backpack weight greater than 10 percent of the child's body weight was shown to increase forward-leaning posture, decrease lung volume, and alter normal gait.3
Another study also demonstrated that carrying a backpack weight of more than 20 percent of the child's body weight was responsible for back pain within the previous year. 4
Lightening the Load
Backpack safety and education is vital in the health of children.
Backpacks with single straps should be avoided completely because of their effects on the spine. Parents should instead obtain double-strapped backpacks. Parents can also push for the increased use of school lockers, which have been shown to lighten the burden on children's shoulders.5
Furthermore, the load in the backpack should be kept to less than 10 percent of the child's body weight in order to avoid overloading the spine, which causes harmful posture and creates abnormal physiology.
Because backpacks are a necessity for most children, it is vital to take action immediately to reduce the possible effects of an overloaded backpack. Have your children screened for spinal damage and postural abnormalities, as both are integral to long-term health.
- Chansirinukor W, Wilson D, Grimmer K, Dansie B. Effects of backpacks on students: measurement of cervical and shoulder posture. Aust J Physiother. 2001; 47:110-116.
- Cottalorda J, Rahmani A, Diop M, Gautheron V, Ebermeyer E, Belli A. Influence of school bag carrying on gait kinetics. J Pediatr Orthop B. 2003; 12:357-364.
- Hong Y, Brueggemann GP. Changes in gait pattern in 10-year-old boys with increasing loads when walking on a treadmill. Gait Posture. 2000; 11:254-259.
- Viry P, Creveuil C, Marcelli C. Nonspecific back pain in children. A search for associated factors in 14-year-old schoolchildren. Rev Rhum. 1999; 66:381-388.
- Skaggs DL, Early SD, D'Ambra P, Tolo VT, Kay RM.Back pain and backpacks in school children. J Pediatr Orthop. 2006 May-Jun;26(3):358-63. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16670549