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Pain in My Back…Pack

child with backpack

Presented by the Lerner Children’s Pavilion.

Never mind the flashy new colors and patterns that each school year brings; backpacks should fit children well to mitigate unnecessary back aches and pains. The Consumer Product Safety Commission calculates that carrying a 12-pound backpack to and from school and lifting it 10 times a day for an entire school year puts a cumulative load of 21,600 pounds on a child’s body. That’s equivalent to six mid-sized cars. In addition, the Commission reports that more than 28,600 people were treated for backpack-related injuries in 2013. Some schools have even banned this seemingly necessary school supply in an effort to reduce chronic fatigue and soreness in the shoulders, cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine.

Weightlifting has its role in good health and fitness, but the first rule holds true whether it is backpacks or back squats: proper form and appropriate weight for body mass and strength.

Though not linked to scoliosis or long-term degenerative disease, scientific studies looking at the long-term use or misuse of backpacks have not been performed. The best medicine, as always, is prevention.

In order to limit backpack injuries consider the following recommendations:

Limit the backpack to no more than 10 percent of your child’s body weight.

If possible, obtain two sets of hard cover books, to avoid excessive textbook transportation.

Carry only the items required for that day.

Though many students prefer to sling the backpack over only one shoulder, have them use both shoulder straps at all times. Be sure the pack has well-padded shoulder straps. If the pack has a waist strap, make sure your child fastens it when walking more than one city block.

Wear the backpack over the strongest mid-back muscles. The backpack should rest evenly in the middle of the back and allow your child’s arms to move freely.

Use proper lifting techniques. Teach your child to bend at the knees and use his or her legs to lift the backpack, placing one shoulder strap on at a time.

If the load in the backpack cannot be reduced to 10% body weight, students should maintain core strength (sit ups and planks) and hamstring flexibility (touch toes, keeping knees straight) to accommodate heavier loads.

Updated on August 26, 2019

Dr. Shevaun Doyle, pediatric orthopedic surgeonDr. Shevaun Doyle specializes in general pediatric orthopedics, pediatric orthopedic trauma, pediatric and adolescent metabolic bone disease, and scoliosis.

Topics: Featured, Pediatrics
The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.