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


More Than A Crick—Common Spinal Injuries In Sports

You’ve long doffed your winter coat and have already spent plenty of afternoons basking in the sun. At Methodist Hospital for Surgery, we certainly hope that your coming days are going to involve summer sports and weekend campouts, but we also want to know that you’re taking care along the way.

Specifically, as people become more active, especially in school or community athletic programs, our orthopedic specialists want to highlight some of the more common spinal injuries that can occur in these scenarios, along with how to prevent and treat them.

Because spinal injury should never be the reason for summer coming to a swift end.

Knowing When Things Are Out of Whack

Spine-related injuries common to sports is a lengthy topic, with a mile-long list of injuries one could sustain. But let’s shorten our focus to specific types of spinal injury and narrow it down to the top three: disc injury, pinched nerves—called stingers—and fractures.

  • Disc Injury: herniated or “slipped” discs can occur as a result of prolonged pressure throughout the spine; an individual disc can tear out of its normal position and begin pressing against the spinal column. This kind of pressure against the spine’s root nerves can cause numbness, pain, and tingling in the limbs. Treatment generally begins conservatively, with anti-inflammatories, ice, and rest, but may progress to bracing, physical therapy, and steroid injections depending on the injury’s severity.
  • Stingers: known clinically as a brachial plexus injury, stingers are common in contact sports and are caused by the head being forcefully pushed down or to the side (usually in a collision). The resulting pinched nerves cause stinging electrical-type pain, usually in one arm, and can lead to overall weakness in the limb if not treated. Much like disc injuries, treatment may include rest, anti-inflammatories, physical therapy, or steroid or cortisone injections.
  • Fractures: while it sounds scary, “spinal fracture” is not synonymous with “spinal cord injury” and the severity depends on the location of the fracture and whether surrounding ligaments were also injured or dislocated. Symptoms vary in accordance with the severity of the fracture but can include back or neck pain, numbness and tingling, muscle spasms or weakness, or paralysis. In many cases, spinal fractures heal with conservative treatments of rest and medication, otherwise braces, orthotics, and surgical fusion may be necessary.

Prevent Injury & Play It Safe

With spinal injury, it is always better to be safe than sorry. If you’re engaging in any kind of contact sport, make sure helmets, padding, and other protective gear are worn and properly fitted. If you or another athlete suspects a spinal injury after a fall or collision—especially if you experience pain, numbness or tingling, or muscle weakness or paralysis—see an orthopedic specialist right away.

Not sure who to see regarding spinal injuries? Learn more about our orthopedic spine specialists visit our website or email us at

Don’t Take a Back Seat to Back Pain

Most adults consider back pain a common part of life. Long days behind a desk, toting toddlers, gym routines and even daily chores all seem to become known as a twinge in the neck, a throb in the shoulders or just an endless ache along the spine. But how can you know when back pain is something more than just a symptom of the norm?

Your spine is a control tower—pay attention to what it controls!

Think of your spine as a control tower that affects the performance of your limbs and even several vital organs. With that in mind, it makes sense to note when these “satellite” areas are being affected by pain. As for what kinds of pain, consider these:

  • Tingling and/or numbness in the arms or legs
  • Shooting pain that travels down the leg
  • General weakness affecting the legs or upper body

If you experience these symptoms in conjunction with back pain, there’s a lot that could be happening. Specifically, you could be suffering from one of several conditions that cause inflammation and subsequent pressure on the major nerves in your back and shoulders.

Symptoms such as numbness, tingling, shooting pain, pain that travels or general weakness—especially when they accompany back pain—are a sure sign that it’s time to chat with your doctor, because delayed treatment of potentially injured nerves can lead to permanent damage.

Time of day determines a lot.

Have you noticed that your pain peaks at night? Perhaps more specifically when it’s time to lie down in bed? This can be a telltale sign of many things, from degenerated discs to neuropathy or even tumors. While sprains can generally be treated with rest and perhaps pain medication, other conditions will require your doctor’s attention.

Track the days you’re spending in pain.

orthopedic spine specialists at Methodist Hospital for Surgery are industry leaders in diagnosing and treating all manner of back pain, spine and disc deformities and injuries, as well as underlying medical conditions that can cause pain along the spine and in the limbs. If you’ve begun to suspect that your pain is a result of more than the daily grind, give us a call and let our spine specialists set you upright again!