Back to School - Just Say "NO" to Backpack Aches and Pains

Increased participation in sports or exercise, poor posture with sitting, and long periods of inactivity are just a few reasons kids have increased back pain. But a new trend is arising. Healthcare providers across the nation are seeing younger populations for neck, back and shoulder pain because they are lugging around their entire locker's worth of books, school supplies, and assorted personal items all day long. 

To understand how heavy backpacks can affect our bodies, it helps to understand a few basics about the structure of our backs. The spine is made of 33 bones called vertebrae, and between the vertebrae are discs that act as natural shock absorbers. When a heavy weight, such as a backpack filled with books, is incorrectly placed on the shoulders, the weight's force can pull a child backward. To compensate for this unnatural posture, he or she may bend forward at the hips or arch the back. Individuals who wear their backpacks over just one shoulder may end up leaning to one side to offset the extra weight. These compensation patterns can cause the spine to compress unnaturally leading to development of shoulder, neck, and back pain. 


Backpack Safety Tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) & The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA):

  1. Wear both straps to allow the weight of the backpack to be better distributed. 

  2. Wear the backpack over the strongest mid-back muscles by fitting it to rest evenly on the middle of the back. Shoulder straps should be adjusted to allow the child to put on and take off the backpack without difficulty and allow free movement of the arms. Straps should not be too loose, and the backpack should not extend below the low back. 

  3. Lighten the load by keeping the weight at 10-15% or less of the child's bodyweight. Carry only those items that are required for the day. Organize the contents of the backpack by placing the heaviest items closest to the back.

Iowa City Physical Therapy Can Help:

  1. Assistance with helping you to choose a proper backpack and fit it specifically to your child. 

  2. Education to help improve posture problems, correct muscle imbalances, and to prevent and treat pain that can result from improper backpack use.

  3. Individualize a fitness program to help children get strong and stay strong - and carry their own loads!