Each year millions of children carry backpacks overloaded with books, materials, lap tops and sports gear creating concern for the onset of back pain.
With kids carrying a heavy backpack to school, during the school day and going home parents must be aware that doctors are seeing more complaints of back pain.
These heavy backpacks are the source of acute and even chronic back pain. Since this is the start of the school year I want to give parents a heads up on what heavy backpacks can cause and ways to reduce the back pain associated with it.
An overloaded backpack can misshape the natural curves of the mid and lower back region resulting in muscle strain and inflammation to the spinal joints and rib cage; it can lead to poor posture especially rounded shoulders and can cause a student to lean forward, reducing balance and increasing the likelihood of a fall.
Carrying the backpacks over one shoulder puts a strain on muscles to compensate for the uneven weight. The spine leans to the opposite side applying stress to the middle back, ribs and lower back region. This muscle imbalance causes muscle spasms and acute back pain for a short period but definitely acts in the development of chronic pain as you advance in age.
Heavy backpacks exert a great pull on the neck musculature contributing to headaches, shoulder pain, lower back pain and or neck pain. In many instances continued stress on the neck or back regions results in nerve irritation. This is then classified as cervical radiculopathy (pain radiating down arm) or sciatica (pain radiating down the leg). Both of these conditions can show signs of numbness in the upper or lower extremities.
Here are tips to overcome the discomfort of overloaded backpacks (1) the weight of the back pack should weigh less than 15% of the students body weight (2) if heavy books need to be carried it is recommended the heaviest ones should be close to the body (3) see if some of the textbooks are online (4) leather backpacks have a better look but also extra weight; best way to go is nylon which is lightweight (5) purchase backpacks with wider and padded straps to reduce the chance of digging into the shoulders and pinching a nerve (6) find backpacks with abdominal straps because they help in support and redistribute the load across the back better (7) backpack should never hang more than 4 inches below the waist. Remember a backpack that is too low will put stress on the shoulders and cause your child to lean forward (8) make sure your child wears both shoulder straps to distribute the weight evenly on the spine and (9) the bigger the backpack is not always better. The more room there is the more of a tendency to make the pack heavier.
If after making the corrections outlined above and your child still complains of back pain from the overloaded backpack then it is time to speak with the teacher and see if the heavy books can be left in school.
To show you how widespread this problem has become some states are considering adopting legislation that would force school districts to develop ways of reducing the weight of student backpacks. California has enacted and New Jersey is strongly considering. I’m sure other states will follow their example in the near future!
My final recommendation if you suspect that your child is experiencing back pain without injury then it is a sure bet that it is related to the overloaded backpack. Parents should always seek the advise of a back specialist, physical therapist or chiropractor when their child is complaining of back pain.