The Weight of an Education: How That Heavy Backpack Affects Your Child's Spine

Watch out for heavy backpacks!

You see it on the news, social media, discussed in the car-rider lanes, and more - parents are worried about the ever increasing weight of their child’s school bag. As a parent, I understand the worry as well. With textbooks, tablets or laptops, stationary, food and sporting clothes, they really are carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders.  A heavy backpack is certainly a cause for concern when it comes to the health and alignment of the spine. This daily load and associated strain may contribute to future posture problems that can potentially last for years.

At Wagner Chiropractic, many parents ask us “is carrying a heavy backpack bad for my child’s spine”?

Since school has just started, I wanted to address this issue. This article was specifically written to raise awareness of possible impacts associated with heavy backpacks on the health of your child’s spine. Additionally, I want to provide you with several tips to ‘lessen the load’ and some interesting research that has been done on this specific topic. Please read on, or feel free to contact my office today for a chiropractic consultation and posture check.

How Heavy Should a Child Backpack Be?

Follow this ‘rule of thumb’ for the weight of schoolbags. This information is referenced to the American Chiropractic Association.

“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, by the straps.”

So if your child weighs 80 lbs. the maximum weight of their packed bag should be 8 lbs. Go and weigh their bag now to see how heavy it is.

A Global Issue – Backpack use Among School Children

A study conducted in Italy found that the average child carries a backpack that would be the equivalent of a 39-pound burden for a 176-pound man, or a 29-pound load for a 132-pound woman. Of those children carrying heavy backpacks to school, 60 percent had experienced back pain as a result.

The Chiropractors’ Association of Australia conducted another in-field observational study on backpack use among Australian school children. The study revealed:

“90% of school children have bad posture when carrying their bags and could experience spinal damage as a result, while 75% are not using their backpack’s ergonomic features which could prevent such damage”

As a chiropractor, I find these figures alarming. 90% of surveyed students have bad posture when carrying their bags.

Additionally, the study observed that students carried their bags the wrong way, and their bags weighed too much:

“On average, parent’s estimate middle school children are carrying the equivalent of 17 per cent of their body weight in their school bags which is almost double the maximum recommended weight”

Carrying heavy loads over a period of time may contribute to poor posture, injury and other spinal health concerns.

Should I be Worried About the Weight of My Child’s School Backpack?

According to the American Chiropractic Association, “in a new and disturbing trend, young children are suffering from back pain much earlier than previous generations, and the use of overweight backpacks is a contributing factor, according to the American Chiropractic Association (ACA).”

The weight of your child’s school backpack should definitely be a consideration you give thought to. The range of health impacts associated with heavy lifting and repetitive load bearing activities may include:

  • Strain and stress on the spine
  • Postural shifts due to uneven weight distribution e.g. single shoulder strap bags
  • Back pain and muscle tension
  • Musculoskeletal aches and pains
  • Biomechanical issues

Consider These backpack Safety Tips

  • 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, by the straps.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 lighter hand-out materials or workbooks.
  • Although the use of rollerpacks - or backpacks on wheels - has become popular in recent years, 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 rollerpacks because they clutter hallways, resulting in dangerous trips and falls.

Take care with heavy backpacks. Remember, many spinal problems are preventable.

At Wagner Chiropractic, we help students and families address postural problems. Our approach is simple. We believe that health is among our most valuable possessions. Chiropractic care, and a program of chiropractic adjustments, commonly help musculoskeletal issues such as back pain, neck pain, headaches and sports injury.

Consult Our Clinic

Take the first important step to getting well today – contact us now to arrange a consultation. Please call (352) 589-5443 to arrange an evaluation today. The team at Wagner Chiropractic are happy to answer your questions and we look forward to helping you.

References

  1. American Chiropractors' Association 'Backpack Safety Tips'
  2. Chiropractors’ Association of Australia ‘Backpack use among Australian School Children’ Fact Sheet.
  3. Aprile I, Di Stasio E, Vincenzi MT, et al. The relationship between back pain and schoolbag use: a cross-sectional study of 5,318 Italian students. Spine J. 2016; 16 (6): 748–755. www.thespinejournalonline.com/article/S1529-9430(16)00342-9/abstract. Accessed September 6, 2016.
Ramah WagnerComment