Should I worry about my child carrying a heavy backpack?

Parents have enough to worry about, should they add their kid’s backpack to the list? They should certainly be paying attention says Dr. Daniel Robbins, an orthopaedic specialist at OA Centers for Orthopaedic Associates.

Studies have shown that if they’re not worn correctly, backpacks can have a negative impact on the spine, neck, and back. How much it weighs and the child’s posture are important factors, says Dr. Robbins.

Little girl with heavy backpack

Source: Pond5

When a backpack weight approaches 10-15% of the child’s body weight, there is an increased incidence of complaints of low back pain. In pre-teen and teenagers, young women exhibit a higher percentage of back pain complaints.

Generally, the style of backpack is not as important as posture in preventing back and neck issues. It is always a good idea for students to wear both straps of their backpack.  Additionally, backpacks that have a waist or hip strap can help to evenly distribute the weight across the back.  The lowest lumbar discs, L5-S1, see the most significant increase in compressive forces.

So, pay attention to posture and alignment. Your student should be able to stand upright with his/her shoulders over the hips and hips over feet. They should learn to be cognizant of their posture and if they are bending or slouching to compensate for the weight on their back, this is a sign to lighten the load.

Students should focus on using their core/abdominal muscles to support their schoolwork, not their spine. Neck and head posture are also important, keeping the chin up and crown of the head up tall. Unfortunately, cell phones have added another layer of problems for spinal health, we now have a diagnosis called “texting neck”!

Many schools now have policies in place to help limit the weight of student’s backpacks from books and homework materials. This combined with a student’s own postural awareness will do wonders to decrease levels of pain and prevent future back and neck issues in adulthood.

As my grandmother used to say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Take a moment to check your child’s backpack and to teach him/her some of Dr. Robbin’s tips. And what he said about “texting neck” is something all of us should think about, as well. I know I’m guilty of hunching over my phone. How about you?

Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. She now hosts and produces the Catching Health podcast and writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.