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  • Dr. Alexa Chillian

Is your child's backpack causing pain? 5 tips for better back health.

featured image showing an overstuffed school backpack

Is your child’s backpack causing them pain? Carrying heavy objects to and from school as well as wearing a backpack improperly can contribute to stress on a child’s spine.

To reduce muscle strain and fatigue, it’s important to understand how backpacks can impact your child’s back. Here’s everything you need to know about the effects of backpack usage, including 5 tips you and your child can use to ensure better back health.

Are you looking for a Chiropractor in San Ramon? Dr. Alexa of Liv Chiropractic Center is conveniently located in San Ramon, California serving clients in the greater East Bay area.

Can backpacks cause back pain?

In short, yes, backpacks can cause back pain for your child if he or she is not using them correctly, or if the backpack is too heavy for your child’s size. Additionally, the potential for back pain arises from the added stress and strain that heavy backpacks place on a child's developing spine and muscles.

Be sure to watch for signs and symptoms of pain in your child including:

  • Numbness

  • Tingling

  • Red marks

  • Shifting posture while wearing a backpack

  • Struggling to take off or put on a backpack

These signs can indicate that the backpack is simply too heavy. It’s recommended that a backpack should never weigh more than 15% of a child’s body weight.

Do backpacks strengthen your back?

Backpacks, when used appropriately and with the right weight distribution, can potentially help to build some degree of strength in the back and shoulder muscles. Keep in mind, however, that they are not a substitute for strength training.

In fact, when worn incorrectly or when carrying excessive weight, backpacks can have the opposite effect and lead to muscle strain and fatigue rather than an increase in strength. To be sure your child’s back and shoulders remain strong and pain-free from carrying a backpack, consider core strengthening exercises by practicing:

  • Weight training

  • Yoga

  • Pilates

Stabilizing torso muscles with exercises like planks, rows, and deadlifts can help to avoid the pain that comes from carrying a heavy backpack.

The effects of carrying heavy backpacks.

Carrying a heavy backpack can have numerous effects on a child’s body, especially the back and shoulders. Here are some of the ways a heavy backpack can cause issues:

  • Increased back, neck, and shoulder pain.

  • Improper posture.

  • Spinal misalignment.

  • Muscle imbalances.

  • Nerve compression leading to tingling sensations.

  • Fatigue and a decrease in energy.

To reduce the negative effects of carrying a heavy backpack, be sure to follow proper backpack usage guidelines and never carry more than the recommended weight mentioned above.

How do backpacks affect posture?

Backpacks can affect posture in both positive and negative ways. When used correctly, backpacks are the safest and most effective way to carry objects to and from school each day. They can provide equal weight distribution across the back and shoulders and engage the core to stabilize the spine. This can ultimately create an upright posture and improve stability.

When worn incorrectly or packed too heavily, however, backpacks can affect posture in unfavorable ways, including:

  • Forward head posture from leaning ahead in an effort to counterbalance the weight of the backpack.

  • Rounded shoulders caused by a heavy backpack pulling shoulders back and downward.

  • Excessive curvature of the spine. While there are no scientific studies that prove backpacks can cause scoliosis, excessive curvature can lead to spinal discomfort or pain and is largely caused by children wearing their backpacks on only one shoulder.

  • Muscle imbalances when a child chooses to carry his or her backpack on only one shoulder.

  • Strain on the lower back if a child is carrying a heavy backpack too low on their back.

By being mindful of how backpacks can affect posture, you and your child can reduce the risk of developing postural issues and promote better spinal health.

Are school backpacks bad for your back?

A study was completed and published with the National Library of Medicine in an attempt to answer this very question. And, while no direct correlation between backpacks and back pain was found, this is largely due to the fact that there haven’t been any long-term studies done on this topic.

However, there have been several indications that backpacks can be problematic when used improperly by:

  • Carrying excessive weight.

  • Carrying the backpack for prolonged periods throughout the day.

  • Choosing a backpack with poor design.

  • Wearing it incorrectly.

Keep in mind that as mentioned above, wearing a backpack correctly can have a positive effect on posture and it’s one of the most effective ways to carry supplies and books to and from school each day.

What is backpack syndrome?

While backpack syndrome is rare, it ​​can occur when individuals wear heavy backpacks over an extended period of time and it can lead to nerve injury. Most often, this syndrome is found in individuals who choose to carry their backpacks with only one strap causing the load to be unevenly distributed over one shoulder. Signs of backpack syndrome include:

  • Numbness or tingling in the arm or hand.

  • Weakness in the arm or hand.

  • Pain in the shoulder or arm.

  • Loss of sensation or function in the affected arm.

To prevent backpack syndrome, it’s crucial to use both shoulder straps when wearing a backpack, as this evenly distributes the weight across the back and shoulders.

5 Tips for better back health.

To prevent backpack syndrome, poor posture, and other back, neck, and shoulder pain, it’s important for your child to use their backpack correctly and effectively. Here are a few ways you can help your child attain better back health this school year:

  1. Lighten the load. Remember that a child should not carry more than 15% of their body weight in their backpack. Encourage your child to carry only what they need, and start by loading the heaviest items in the back of the backpack.

  2. Ensure proper fit and wear. Backpacks should be worn with both shoulder straps at all times. They should also be snug, have wide straps, and never hang more than a few inches from the waist.

  3. Practice correct posture. When picking up a backpack, remind your child to bend at the knees instead of the waist to prevent additional back pain. Encourage your child to walk with a straight back as well. When a backpack gets too heavy, children tend to lean forward, causing poor posture.

  4. Break it in. Adjusting the straps of the backpack to obtain proper fit and comfort before use can alleviate potential back issues. If your child has a new backpack this year, be sure the straps fit and are comfortable before starting school.

  5. Practice back strengthening exercises. As mentioned, core strengthening exercises can help to avoid pain and promote an overall stable torso. It’s also important to focus on living an active, healthy lifestyle.

When to seek chiropractic help.

If your child is experiencing back, neck, or shoulder pain, or any of the signs of backpack syndrome like numbness or tingling, it may be time to see a chiropractor. With our focus on upper cervical chiropractic care, we can help your child alleviate backpack pain and enjoy a successful school year.

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