Get Better, Faster – CT & RI Physical Therapy

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Backpack Back Attack

With school out, kid’s backs might be hurting after carrying heavy bags in the hot weather. By “hitting the books” students who carry backpacks greater than 10% of their body weight are contributing to the hottest epidemic: Low back pain in children.

80% of adults suffer low back pain. It has been estimated that 60% of youths will experience a low back pain episode. This is due in part to the improper use of backpacks on a young, growing spine.

Backpacks are a fashion statement for kids in elementary school, high school, and college. From an education standpoint, we need to teach our kids that it is cool to take care of your spine. This could eliminate pain and grief later in life. So, if your child complains of neck or back pain, listen up. The solution may be as simple as changing the way the backpack is carried, or eliminating some unnecessary items reducing the overall weight in the pack. In either case, you will want to do some checking into.

It has been recommended by many health care professional organizations to NOT carry a backpack > 15% of your body weight. That means if your child weighs 50lbs, their pack should weigh 7.5 lbs or less! For an 80 lb youngster, 12 lbs is the max. Also, a 100 lb adolescent max weight is 15 lbs. However, research is undergoing and reports are coming out from the American Orthopedic Association stating only 10% of your body weight is safe to carry on your back. So, for the 100 lb adolescent, 10 lbs is the max weight to be carried to avoid back pain. This may seem impossible to get your student to adhere to. Help your youth organize their pack to only carry what is needed. These habits are learned early on and bad habits can be prevented at an earlier age.

So, how can you make sure your child’s backpack is of a proper fit? Not only does the weight of the pack need to be monitored, but also, the placement of the pack should rest at the low back, not over the buttocks, and not at the mid spine near the shoulder blades. This proper fit will allow the greatest weight distribution. Urge your youngster to not only use both shoulder straps, but also, most importantly, to use the waist strap which helps distribute the load to the pelvis. Purchase a backpack that has wide shoulder straps preferably padded to prevent indentations on the shoulders. Also, by using the compression straps on the sides of the backpack prevents movement of the articles inside.

It may seem obvious to most of us that if the weight of the backpack is too great for a spine, the body will compensate by leaning forward causing a harming posture. Teach your kids how they should look and feel with the proper and improper fit of the backpack. If by the day’s end, the pack is too heavy to carry home on the bus, creating this forward leaning, tell your kids to carry heavy books in their arms to avoid carrying over and above the proper weight of the pack. This will allow them to walk upright and be balanced with books etc in front of them.

If the backpack is carried off one shoulder, the increasing likelihood of creating uneven stress of the shoulders and spine is obvious. The postural imbalance can trigger vertebral changes creating serious postural malalignment. This malalignment is a precursor to pain and dysfunction which can affect a child well into their adult years.

Now, there are the rolling backpacks that prove to be difficult to lift up the steps into the bus, only to tip on the way down the bus steps. They are great on uneven ground, but most kids fear they are not cool. Trying to get them to use them proves very challenging.

This is a serious epidemic and the place to make change is first with the manufacturers. If only they made a backpack like a hiking pack, one that rests on the hips with aluminum bars to take the weight off the back completely. The second place is with the marketing directors. If only the advertisement was of a briefcase instead of an “off the shoulder pack”. Your best bet is to teach your child what fits best for them, and to monitor the weight in the pack as well as posture and pain complaints. It may be properly justified to have them take a “vacation” from their backpack and go without one to give their back a rest. Either way, keep your kids healthy by exercising regularly. This will help too. Remember, don’t hesitate, participate.