Bones, joints, and muscles
Pain in the back: your child's backpack may not be the cause
Back pain is pervasive throughout the adult population. It is one of the
most common reasons to visit a doctor. Young children are suffering from
back pain much earlier than previously reported, and the use of overweight
backpacks is a major contributing factor. In addition to overloaded backpacks,
improper wearing of them may predispose a child to various health problems.
Back pain usually results from repetitive loading as well as improper mechanics,
not to mention kids are getting weaker and less physically active, leading to
the child's inability to handle the load of the backpack.
Does your child complain or exhibit the following signs and symptoms?
- aching back
- aching neck and shoulders
- tingling in the arms and hands
- slumped posture: rounded shoulders, forward head
- posture changes when wearing a backpack
- struggling when putting on or taking off the backpack
- redness and/or soreness on the shoulders
The major contributing factors associated with injury include:
- muscle imbalances: too weak in the abdominal area, shoulder blades,
and/or lower body
- slumped posture while standing and sitting
- posture changes: arching the back, leaning forward, leaning to one side
These factors may cause improper loading on the spine, which in turn
can cause poor alignment of the vertebrae. All of this negatively impacts the
function of discs as shock absorbers. When the backpack is too heavy or when
it is poorly positioned, muscles to work harder, leading to strain and
fatigue that ultimately make the back, neck, and shoulders more susceptible
Following are recommendations to ensure proper and safe backpack use.
- Do not carry more than 15 percent of the child's body weight. For example,
a child who weighs 100 pounds should not carry more than 15 pounds in his or
- Utilize both straps over the shoulders. This provides better distribution
of the weight. Make sure straps are well padded. If the backpack has a waist
belt, use it to reduce the load on the shoulders and neck.
- Load the heaviest items closest to the child's back. Make sure the books
and the other materials do not slide around.
- Make sure the backpack is positioned across the mid back and do not allow
it to hang below the waist of the child. Straps should not be loose and should
be adjusted while putting on and taking off the backpack to permit free movement
of the arms without twisting and side bending the spine.
- Parents should assist with the loading and the organization of the books
and materials. Make sure the items are necessary for each particular day. If
necessary, it's OK to have the child hand carry a couple of books.
- Listen to your child. If he or she continues to complain of pain and
discomfort, do not shrug it off. There are plenty of things children can do to
avoid pain. Have them evaluated by a medical professional.
- You may consider a backpack that has wheels. Make sure the extended handle
is the appropriate length to prevent the child from bending and twisting
- Be aware of your child's habits and physical make-up. Proper exercise and
nutrition are key to preventing injuries immediately as well as later in life.
The truth is as kids get stronger and their muscles become more balanced,
they will build up the tolerance to these and other daily stresses of life. It
just takes a little bit of knowledge and coaching from Mom and Dad to encourage
your child to become more active in a fun way.
I encourage you to keep in mind what I call "balanced muscle development". It
is the key to any and all development. If you are not certain as to how a child
can achieve a balanced body, please seek professional help from a certified
health care provider.
About the Author:
Dr. Robert V. Duvall, DPT, MPT, ATC, MGFI, graduated from Shenandoah University's
Program in Physical Therapy with a Master of Physical Therapy degree in 1998. He
earned his Doctorate of Physical Therapy degree from the Physical Therapy Program
at Shenandoah University. Visit www.losethebackpain.com to sign up for your free back pain
e-mail educational course.