Two of the most common symptoms chiropractors treat are neck and back pain. What is surprising is the patients complaining of these painful symptoms seem to be getting younger due to the wearing of backpacks. When heading out to school it is customary to stuff the backpack full of notebooks, heavy textbooks, food, clothes and other supplies weighing it down. According to the American Chiropractor Association (ACA), “In a new and disturbing trend, young children are suffering from back pain much earlier than previous generations, and the use of overweight backpacks is a contributing factor.” Backpack safety is the topic of this post.

Backpacks and Their Effect on Your Children’s Neck, Shoulders and Back

Dr. Scott Bautch, a member of ACA’s Council on Occupational Health notes, “In my own practice, I have noticed a marked increase in the number of young children who are complaining about back, neck and shoulder pain,”

Dr. Bautch continues, “This new back pain trend among youngsters isn’t surprising when you consider the disproportionate amounts of weight they carry in their backpacks – often slung over just one shoulder. A study conducted in Italy on backpack safety found that the average child carries a backpack that would be the equivalent of a 39-pound burden for a 176-pound man or a 29-pound load for a 132-pound woman. Of those children carrying heavy backpacks to school, 60 percent had experienced back pain as a result.”

“Preliminary results of studies conducted in France show that the longer a child wears a backpack, the longer it takes for a curvature or deformity of the spine to correct itself. “The question that needs to be addressed next is, ‘Does it ever return to normal?'” Dr. Bautch added.

Correct Backpack Practices

The American Chiropractor Association offers tips for properly wearing and selecting a backpack to prevent neck and back problems in both children and adults.

  • Make sure the backpack doesn’t weigh more than 5 to 10 percent of the person’s body weight. Wearing a heavy backpack forces the person to bend forward to support the weight on their back rather than using the shoulder straps to support the backpack’s weight on the shoulder area.
  • Backpacks shouldn’t hang lower than 4-inches below the waist. Backpacks hanging lower than this force the person to lean forward when walking to support its weight.
  • Select a backpack with individual compartments where the contents are distributed more evenly and efficiently. Pack heavier object like textbooks close to the back and lighter objects in the front.
  • Select a backpack made from lightweight materials and remember, bigger isn’t necessarily better, as the bigger the backpack the more likely you are to pack it with more items increasing its weight.
  • Choose a backpack with wide padded shoulders and wear both shoulder straps instead of carrying the backpack by one strap.
  • Adjust the shoulder straps so they properly fit against the body and the backpack doesn’t hang loose.
  • If after following all these tips your child’s backpack is still too heavy, you might want to discuss the problem with the teacher and see if the child can leave the heavier textbooks at school and instead bring home lighter paper handouts.
  • Backpacks on wheels have become a popular alternative to standard backpacks, but the American Chiropractor Association is recommending their use on a cautionary basis and only those who can’t wear the standard backpack due to physical disabilities use them. Due to the rolling backpacks cluttering the hallways and creating tripping hazards, some schools have banned their use.

Choosing a suitable backpack and wearing it appropriately will prevent pain and discomfort in the back and neck. However, if your child or you begin to suffer problems due to wearing a backpack, consider visiting your local doctor of chiropractor (DC). They are licensed and trained to diagnose and treat the problem in persons of all ages and can prescribe exercises that help strength muscles.


American Chiropractor Association: Backpack Safety Tips

Kempsville Chiropractic: Backpack Back Check!

Ontario Chiropractor Association: Backpack 101