Improper Use of Backpacks
Leads to Chronic Back Pain

This section is compiled by Frank M. Painter, D.C.
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FROM:   The American Chiropractic Association

Across the nation, millions of elementary, high school and college students are racing out to the school bus or scurrying to their classes with overstuffed backpacks slung over their shoulders.

While carrying a backpack to school each morning might seem harmless enough, it can cause some painful back and neck problems for students who don’t pack or carry their backpacks properly.

Back pain is pervasive in our society. Eighty percent of all Americans will suffer from it at some point in their lives, and 50 percent of us will suffer from low-back pain this year alone. Low-back pain is the most common health problem experienced by working Americans today, and a condition which costs our nation’s economy at least $50 billion a year in lost wages and productivity. Much of this suffering is brought on by bad habits initiated during our younger years — such as carrying overweight backpacks to school. The improper use of backpacks can lead to muscle imbalance that could turn into chronic back and neck problems later in life.

What Can You Do?

The American Chiropractic Association suggests the following tips to help prevent the needless pain that backpack misuse could cause the students in your household. (And, now that backpacks have begun replacing briefcases in the work place, you, too, might want to follow this advice):

  • Make sure your child’s backpack weighs no more than 10 percent of his or her body weight. If the backpack is heavier, it will cause your child to begin bending forward in an attempt to support the weight on his or her back rather than on the shoulders, by the straps.

  • A backpack with individualized compartments will help in positioning the contents most effectively. When packing the backpack, make sure that pointy or bulky objects are packed away from the area that will rest on your child’s back. An uneven surface rubbing against your child's back could cause painful blisters.

  • It is important that your child wear both shoulder straps. Lugging the backpack around by one shoulder strap can cause the disproportionate shift of weight to one side, leading to neck and muscle spasms as well as low-back pain.

  • Padded straps are very important. Non-padded straps are uncomfortable, and usually dig into your child’s shoulders.

  • The shoulder straps should also be adjustable, so the backpack can be fitted to your child’s body. Shoulder 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. It might be possible for your child to leave the heaviest books at school, and bring home only lighter hand-out materials or workbooks.

  • Talk to your child about the proper use of backpacks and help him or her understand why this and other ergonomic issues are important. A child who is educated early in life on the importance of ergonomics can apply this knowledge later in life — at home or in the office — and will be happier and healthier as a result.

Chiropractic Care Can Help…

If you or your child experience any pain or discomfort in the shoulders, arms, legs or back, call your doctor or chiropractic to assess any adverse affects resulting from backpack use. Doctors of chiropractic are licensed and trained to diagnose and treat patients of all ages and will use a gentler type of treatment for children. In addition, doctors of chiropractic can also prescribe exercises designed to help children develop strong muscles, along with instruction in good nutrition, posture and sleeping habits.


Since 4-06-2004

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