Backpack Safety for Children

Although back pain may be more prevalent amongst the adult population, children are also affected. One of the most common causes of back pain, whether it be neck, mid- or lower back pain, is the misuse of backpacks by youngsters.

The use of book bags or backpacks produced over 6,500 injuries alone in 2000 according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The main issues are the weight of the backpack in relation to the child’s weight and the fact that children tend to carry it over one shoulder. This can also accentuate a pre-existing curvature of the spine in those with scoliosis. Many schools require students to carry their books with them all day making the problem worse.

Tips for Proper Backpack Use

The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) offers these tips for proper backpack use:

  1. Make sure your child’s backpack weighs no more than 5 to 10 percent of his or her body weight. A heavier backpack will cause your child to bend forward in an attempt to support the weight on his or her back, rather than on the shoulders, using the straps. Observe your child’s posture. If the child leans forward while walking, takes shorter strides while walking uses his or her hands to protect the shoulders from the straps, it is an indication the backpack is too heavy.
  2. The backpack should never hang more than four inches below the waistline. A backpack that hangs too low increases the weight on the shoulders, causing your child to lean forward when walking.
  3. A backpack with individualized compartments helps in positioning the contents most effectively. Make sure that pointy or bulky objects are packed away from the area that will rest on your child’s back.
  4. Bigger is not necessarily better. The more room there is in a backpack, the more your child will carry-and the heavier the backpack will be. Urge your child to wear both shoulder straps. Lugging the backpack around by one strap can cause the disproportionate shift of weight to one side, leading to neck and muscle spasms, as well as low-back pain.
  5. Wide, padded straps are very important. Non-padded straps are uncomfortable and can dig into your child’s shoulders. The shoulder straps should be adjustable so the backpack can be fitted to your child’s body. Straps that are too loose can cause the backpack to dangle uncomfortably and cause spinal misalignment and pain.
  6. If the backpack is still too heavy, talk to your child’s teacher. Ask if your child could leave the heaviest books at school, and bring home only the lighter handout materials or workbooks.

Although the use of roller packs-or backpacks on wheels-has become popular in recent years, the ACA is now recommending that they be used cautiously and on a limited basis by only those students who are not physically able to carry a backpack. Some school districts have begun banning the use of roller packs because they clutter hallways, resulting in dangerous trips and falls.

If your child experiences any pain or discomfort resulting from backpack use, call your doctor of chiropractic. Doctors of chiropractic are licensed and trained to diagnose and treat patients of all ages and will use gentle treatment for children. In addition, doctors of chiropractic can also prescribe exercises designed to help children develop strong muscles, along with instruction in good nutrition, posture and sleeping habits. A good rule of thumb is that a child should never be in pain and if he or she complains, the source of the problem needs to be investigated.