Back Pain in Kids – The Stress of a Backpack

The school year is in full swing. Your child has gotten the back-to-school physical and is current on vaccinations, but one thing you might have overlooked in preparing your child for the new school year is back safety. Back safety for children? Believe it or not, this is a growing issue for students in kindergarten all the way through high school. The biggest culprit is a too-heavy backpack.

David H Clements, MD

September 19, 2018, has been designated as National School Backpack Awareness Day to raise awareness on the risks associated with a heavy backpack.

Consider this: The average high school student takes eight classes per day. Each one of those classes includes textbooks, notebooks, and supplies. This means students must carry all of these things in their backpack to school each day, putting a strain on student’s necks and back.

The average 15-year-old male weighs 129 pounds and the average 15-year-old female weighs 114 pounds. As a rule of thumb, students’ backpacks shouldn’t weigh more than 10- to 15 percent of a student’s body weight. On average, this means backpacks should be no more than 10- to 17 pounds for girls and 12- to 18 pounds for boys. This may seem like a lot but those books add up fast. In a study in California, some textbooks weigh nearly five pounds each. For students carrying more than five books at one time, not counting school supplies and personal items, the strain on students can affect them down the road.

Vishal Ajay Khatri, MD

The common myth that scoliosis is caused by heavy backpacks isn’t true, however. While a study published by Journal of Pediatric Orthopedics showed no causal link between scoliosis and backpacks, there is plenty of evidence that backpacks may cause other back problems. The study of 3,500 students aged 11 to 15 in the United States determined that 64 percent reported having back pain occasionally. Two of every five children felt pain while wearing their backpacks. Most students with pain said the pain was recurrent. Students carrying heavier backpacks were more likely to report back pain.

The good news is, there are simple, quick ways to help protect students’ backs. It starts when picking out a backpack. Choose a sturdy canvas bag that is lightweight. Make sure your child uses two straps and not just one; this really makes a big difference in dispersing the weight evenly.

Encourage your student to use their lockers and desks as much as possible to store items. Inquire if electronic versions of textbooks are available online. If you are concerned with the amount of weight your child is carrying around, talk to your child’s teacher or the school administration. If your child reports having back pain on an ongoing basis, have it checked out by a doctor to rule out other health issues.

David H. Clements, MD, and Vishal Khatri,  MD, are orthopaedic surgeons with the Cooper Bone & Joint Institute. To learn more about this topic, click here.

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