Back to School: Back(pack) Problems


You’ve downloaded this year’s list of school supplies, braved the retail store crowd hunting for the same calculators, No. 2 pencils, and 3-ring binders, and undoubtedly came to terms with that fact that, whether first grade or freshman, your kids are growing up entirely too quickly.

As you send them off to begin another school year, you remember how many germs get passed around, hands stay unwashed and inevitable sick days lie ahead. Yet, there’s one aspect of your child’s health that may be easily overlooked but can have lifelong effects: proper spine health and care.

Remember all those school supplies you bought? Guess where they generally end up? You guessed it, on your child’s back, along with heavy books, lunches and personal items. These can add a significant amount of stress and strain on the spine, especially when factoring in how often they’re weighing on your child’s back.

Take this into consideration: the more weight that is on your child’s back, the more he or she must compensate to keep the back straight. When bent at the hips or lower back, unnatural compression of the spinal column and the vertebrae can occur, which generally results in soreness of the neck or can easily lead to back pain. Generally, to help offset the stress put on the spine, many physicians and physical therapists will recommend only carrying anywhere from 10% – 20% of the child’s bodyweight in their backpack at any point. This allows the back to stay aligned without putting unnecessary strain on it.

Also, wearing backpacks on just one shoulder adds an imbalance in weight to one side of the body, again forcing the spine to compress and compensate. While wearing a pack over one shoulder may be easier or is a preferred method for most kids, it can certainly cause pain if too much weight is being carried.

Backpack Health – How Can You Help?

You obviously won’t be able to monitor your children at all times, but you can certainly equip them with the right backpack to help reduce harmful stress and strain.

Purchasing a lightweight backpack with multiple compartments is ideal. The lightweight material won’t add a significant amount of tertiary weight to your child and the different compartments will allow weight to be distributed more evenly. Also, many backpacks now come with padding for the back and shoulders, providing even more support for your child.

Much like any tool or aid, there is a proper way to use it; the same goes with a backpack. You can tell your kids about the issues and complications that can arise from misuse. Encourage them to:

  • Make frequent locker trips instead of jamming everything in their pack
  • Wear the pack properly to evenly distribute the weight on their bodies
  • Leave unnecessary or untimely items at home or stored safely in their lockers
  • Keep only 10-20% of their body weight in the pack at any time

Help keep this school season healthy and safe. For all your medical care, trust Methodist Hospital for Surgery.

Additional Backpack Health Resources

New York Times Article

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