Backpack wearing can cause long-term health problems for children. Dr. Romina Ghassemi provides advice and tips on the correct use of backpacks.

As a parent, sometimes you may not know what’s bothering your kids. This is understandable, of course. But what they may be keeping from you may be affecting their health. This isn’t about drugs or alcohol—it’s about their backpacks.

While it seems like such an innocuous thing to worry about, backpacks are actually one of the more popular reasons for a lot of health problems with children these days. In just a single year (2013), the US Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that 5,415 cases reported in emergency rooms were injuries related to the use of back packs.

Another survey also discovered that about two-thirds of kids have experienced some back pain at some time. About 40% of kids say they feel pain when they carry their backpack, and of these kids 9 out of 10 say the pain is “bad” or “very bad”.

Most say the pain was recurrent, and some have reported pain that lasts for 6 months. Some have missed classes or some school activity because of the pain, and others were forced to see a doctor because of the severity of the pain. Other reported issues include neck pains, shoulder pains, and tension headaches.

The problem isn’t limited to short-term conditions. Because children’s bones are still growing and children are more apt to learn habits at this age, some potential long-term effects can be very serious.

Chronic Pain: When children are getting back pains and other assorted aches at such a young age, then there is a potential for chronic pain that can affect them for the rest of their lives. Chronic pain experienced over decades can lead to a whole range of potential disasters. This includes the likelihood of alcohol and painkiller abuse, as well as having to endure the emotional burden of such pain.

Bad Posture: Some children learn very improper posture habits when they wear backpacks every day, and these habits can be carried over for the rest of their lives. These habits include slouching, hunchback postures, and jutting and leaning their head forward. These postures can lead to some spinal difficulties and back pain later in life. What’s more, their social and romantic lives may also suffer because these postures are decidedly unattractive.

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Spinal abnormalities

Children’s bones are still growing, and the daily use of overly-laden backpacks cane cause these bones to grow abnormally. One of the more serious potential problems is called scoliosis.

Scoliosis is a condition in which your child’s spine becomes curved from side to side. This condition often happens during a growth spurt right before they hit puberty. If the condition is mild enough, a brace can be worn to keep the curve from becoming worse. But scoliosis may be severe enough that surgery may be necessary, in order prevent further curvature and to attempt to straighten the spine.

So what’s to be done? As a parent, you can make sure that your kid is not carrying heavy loads and that they’re using the right type of backpack. You may also encourage them to wear some sort of brace for posture support. Just make sure the posture support device is comfortable and unnoticeable, so that your kid will actually wear them. However, there is another option.

How to wear a backpack correctly

Once upon a time backpacks were only used for hiking. Then they became cool to use on vacations and travels on the cheap, and they also became popular among kids as a way to carry books and schools supplies.

But backpacks can have rather debilitating effects on a child’s posture, and it may not be healthy for children if they’re not used properly.

10 tips on safe backpack use

To minimize or even avoid these health hazards, here are 10 tips on safe backpack use that parents should keep in mind:

  1. The weight of the backpack must not exceed 15% of the user’s weight. This is according to the recommendation of the American Occupational Therapy Association. So if your kid weighs 80 pounds, the entire backpack must not weigh more than 12 pounds.
  2. The limit may even be lower for girls, who tend to complain more regarding back pain. This is probably due to their slighter frames. Girls also typically carry heavier backpacks than boys. For parents, a 10% weight limit for girls may be advisable. For young children, 9 pounds may be a more advisable limit.
  3. If the backpack is at its limit and the child has more things to carry, remind them that it’s better to carry the extra items in their hands than to place them in the backpack.
  4. It is, however, a very good idea to keep the weight as light as possible. Every unnecessary item in the backpack must be discarded. For example, instead of heavy textbooks you may just get the ebook versions for kid’s tablet. If ebook versions are not available, try photocopies instead. And if you can afford it, you may want to purchase a second set of textbooks so that one set can remain in school while another set is at home. There’ll be no more need to transfer the books back and forth in the backpack.
  5. The heaviest items should be placed at the back and center of the backpack. This puts these items closest to the child’s back. Don’t put them on the sides. The contents should also be evenly distributed so that one side is not heavier than the other.
  6. Make sure the straps are adjusted properly so that the backpack fits snugly on the child’s back. Have your kid use both straps all the time, even if it is considered “cooler” to use just one strap. A backpack with a waist belt is also better for the child and should be used as well.
  7. The pack should be located about 2 inches below the shoulder blades to the waist level of the child. The pack shouldn’t be more than 4 inches from the waistline level.
  8. The time spent by your child carrying a backpack should be minimized as much as possible.
  9. When slipping off the backpack, have your kid practice taking off the straps at the same time instead of removing them one at a time.
  10.  Have your kids do some core exercises to improve their posture and make them better able to carry a backpack. Remind them to use good posture throughout the day, because slumping weakens core muscles.

Negligence can lead to one of many poor posture conditions known as Hyper-Kyphosis, Forward Neck Carriage, and even Compensatory Scoliosis is a condition in which your kid’s spine becomes curved from side to side. This condition often happens during your kid’s growth spurt right before they hit puberty. If the condition is mild enough, a brace can be worn to keep the curve from becoming worse. But scoliosis may be severe enough that surgery may be necessary, in order to prevent further curvature and to attempt to straighten the spine.

In today’s modern world, the use of backpacks is not just the sole cause of slouching and improper posture. Writing on desks and using desktop computers can also lead to slouching. With devices like posture correctors, slouching can be corrected. Your kid may also avoid health problems such as neck pains, back pains, hunch back, forward head syndrome, and tension headaches. All in all, such devices can be a great help for proper posture.

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This article featured in the last issue of Cardinus Connect, which you can download above.

You can find the author on LinkedIn here: Dr. Romina Ghassemi

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Comments
  • Marilyn M von Foerster PT
    Reply

    I am a physical therapist in Oregon. I developed what I believe is a solution to the problems caused by daily backpack use for school. Please have a look at BackTpack. It is a bilateral posture training carrying system. With a bag on either side, the resultant force is on the spinal axis, thus no posture distortion, even as the load increases. Also the wearer has access to the items without having to remove the bag standing or sitting with it on.

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