Backpack Misuse And Chronic Pain: 5 Questions You Should Be Asking About Your Bookbag

Image courtesy of Comrade Foot.

Image courtesy of Comrade Foot.

Chronic back pain is common, and, according to the American Chiropractic Association (ACA), young children are suffering from back pain sooner than previous generations. One of the main reason is the heavy backpacks that children lug around each year, despite digital advances.

“In my own practice, I have noticed a marked increase in the number of young children who are complaining about back, neck and shoulder pain,” stated Scott Bautch, DC, of the ACA Council on Occupational Health in a press release. “The first question I ask these patients is, ‘Do you carry a backpack to school?’ Almost always, the answer is ‘yes.'”

So, as you prepare for back-to-school season or even as you consider a new backpack for yourself, the ACA has some tips to make sure you’re not one of the almost 5,500 people who get treated for backpack-related injuries at emergency rooms.

  1. Does it weigh 5% – 10% of your body weight? According to Dr. Bautch,  a backpack should weight no more than 5% to 10% of your or your child’s body weight. If a backpack weighs too much, the body naturally shifts forward, using the back to support the extra weight, rather than the shoulders.
  2. Is it the correct size? Backpacks should narrower and longer than your torso as well as hang fewer than four inches below the waist, which may be difficult to find for children. However it is important because backpacks that hang too low increases the weight on the shoulders, causing the body to lean forward when walking.
  3. Does it have two wide, padded, adjustable shoulder straps? Wide, padded, and adjustable straps are very important, according to the ACA. They keep the backpack comfortable and the weight on the shoulders. Also, if you’re shopping for a child, encourage them to use both shoulder straps, even if it’s not the ‘cool’ thing to do. 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.
  4. Does the backpack have a padded back? A padded back is more comfortable, but it also helps protect sharp objects or edges from poking through.
  5. Does the pack have several compartments? Compartments are important because they kelp to keep that contents safely stored and evenly positioned. The ACA notes that pointy or bulky objects should be placed away from the area that will rest on your back.

Additionally, if you notice your child struggling with a heavy backpack, talk with the teacher about alternate therapies, such as using an electronic book or getting some additional copies for home. On a personal note, scoliosis runs in my family, and one of my family members had a very painful time carrying her backpack around starting in middle school. With a simple conversation with teachers and a properly-fitted backpack, she was able to help lighten her load, perhaps preventing years of future pain.

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