Back to School Means Backpack safety!

132It is that time of year again, folks. School registration, class pictures, fall sports, and school supply shopping for all the kids is upon us. With all of the excitement of heading back to school, sometimes parents overlook an important issue that can greatly affect their child’s health: backpack safety. It might not seem like a big deal, but many children are carrying heavier loads than ever before, and it can really take a toll on a young person’s growing and developing spine, setting them up for injuries down the road.

Young children are suffering from back pain much earlier than previous generations, and the use of heavy backpacks is a contributing factor. Heavy packs can cause a child to hyperextend/arch, his or her back, or lean the neck and trunk forward to compensate for the weight of the bag. These postures can stress the muscles in the neck and back, increasing the risk of injury and fatigue. The natural curves in the middle and lower back can become distorted, which can cause irritation to the spinal joints and the rib cage. Rounding of the shoulders also results if a child has to compensate for a heavy load. Too much pressure on the shoulders, neck, upper back and ribs can lead to difficulty taking a deep breath as the thoracic area becomes compressed. Chronic compression may lead to ongoing chest tightness and decreased lung capacity. This may make it harder for your child to breathe while playing sports or riding their bike with friends.
Though more stylish to many kids, wearing a backpack on one shoulder may cause a child to lean to one side in order to compensate for the extra weight. The middle back, ribs and lower back can become stressed on the side of the body opposite of where the backpack is placed. Carrying the pack on one shoulder may also cause upper back pain, and a strain in the shoulders and neck. Chronic muscle tightness in the neck can lead to headaches and jaw pain, which are both becoming more common in school age children.

There are methods for preventing posture problems and other conditions associated with toting a heavy backpack. The first is to limit the weight of the backpack. Many physicians feel that backpack loads become a health problem when they reach 20 pounds or more. The American Physical Therapy Association recommends that children carry backpacks of no more than 15 percent of their body weight – less than that is even better. For example, a child weighing 50 pounds should carry no more than 7.5 pounds in their backpack children weighing 100 pounds should carry no more than 15 pounds on their back and children and adolescents weighing 150 pounds should not carry more than 22.5 pounds.

It is important to start with a lightweight backpack that will not add much weight to the load carried inside. The width should not be greater than that of the child’s torso. Two wide, padded shoulder straps are important in helping the child carry the pack without pain. Look for shoulder straps that are at least two inches wide. Make sure the straps are tightened appropriately so that the bag isn’t sagging. In addition, a waist strap can distribute the weight of a heavy backpack more evenly. A padded back protects against sharp edges on objects inside the pack. I do not recommend a child use a one-strap shoulder bag, as there is no way to balance the weight load evenly.

Most importantly, talk to your child and encourage him or her to tell you about any pain or discomfort caused by a heavy backpack. If you find that your child is struggling to get his backpack on or off, has back pain, has to lean forward to carry his bag, has unexplained headaches or shoulder pain, or has numbness or weakness in the arms and legs, it is important to speak with your child’s chiropractor as soon as possible.

Another way to help prevent back injury that could result from carrying a heavy backpack is to exercise, particularly strengthening the stabilizing the core muscles of the torso, including the lower back and abdominal muscles. Enjoyable activities such as yoga, pilates and tai-chi can be effective in strengthening those muscles.  Encouraging a healthy body weight for their age and size is also recommended to avoid back and neck pain. Any extra weight puts more stress on joints and ligaments. If your child is already overweight and then carries a heavy backpack, they are at a higher risk for spinal injury. A chiropractor can also help with nutritional suggestions to help with weight loss.

I strongly recommend parents bring in their child for an evaluation with their backpack. A chiropractor can help determine the proper size and positioning of the bag in relation to the child’s size and weight. Core strengthening exercises can also be demonstrated, along with stretches for tight muscles. Regular adjustments will keep the spine strong and healthy, muscles and ligaments relaxed, and correct any posture irregularities. At our office, I offer a Backpack Evaluation free of charge for school age children. Our Backpack Safety Day is September 16th, 2013 from 3-6 PM. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact our office at 437-9990.

About the Author

Dr. Brenda Trudell is a chiropractor and owner of New Beginnings Chiropractic in Mount Horeb, WI. The clinic focuses on natural health, especially for women, pregnancy and children through chiropractic, acupuncture, massage, fitness, nutrition, essential oils, and more. As a female chiropractor, she understands the special circumstances surrounding women's health. Men and women are not created equal, and it is important to acknowledge that in the healthcare world. She strives to find the most current healthcare information to help all of her patients.

Dr. Trudell is available to present to groups on many different topics. Please contact the office for details or with any questions. Dr. Trudell is certified in the Webster Technique. For more information, visit or email at