Many children are carrying heavier loads than ever before, and it can really take a toll on a their growing and developing spines, setting them up for injuries in their adult life.
The use of heavy backpacks is contributing to back pain in children as well. 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. 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 is 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. 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.”1
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.
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 call us as soon as possible.
Bring your child in to Chiropractic Family Wellness Center in Scarborough, Maine with his or her backpack and we can give recommendations. Call us at (207) 883-5549 to set up your appointment!