Greater disc compression and increased spinal curvature occurs in children while wearing heavier backpacks, according to a recent study in the journal Spine that indicates that such children may experience and report more lower back pain to their parents.
In the first study to use imaging techniques to examine the effects of backpacks on children's spinal anatomy, researchers conducted standing MRI scans on the lumbar spines of 8 kids (average age 11 years) as they first wore an empty backpack and graduated to increasingly heavier backpacks of 9, 18 and 26 pounds.
According to the study’s findings, decreases in disc height (i.e. greater compression) and more asymmetry to the right or left side of the lumbar spine were noticed while children wore heavier backpack loads. A significant spinal curve was present in half of the kids while wearing an 18-pound backpack.
Children wearing heavier backpacks also reported more back pain. Kids who wore a 26-pound backpack registered a back pain score of nearly 5 on a 10-point scale.
In the past various associations have recommended that children wear backpacks that are no greater than anywhere from 5% to 15% of their body weight. In the study, the 9-pound, 18-pound, and 26-pound backpacks respectively represented 10%, 20% and 30% of the children's body weights.
In the study’s conclusion, the researchers noted the importance of limiting backpack weight when considering that disc compression, spinal curvature and back pain in children increased while wearing heavier loads, and that the risk of suffering back pain as an adult increases when experiencing back pain as a child.
The researchers also added that the children in this study wore their backpacks as intended over both shoulders, possibly suggesting that wearing backpacks on just one strap may lead to even more compression, curvature and back pain.
Parents who are worried about their children developing back pain from backpacks may take many actions, including but not limited to looking for backpacks that have back-friendly features or use wheels, teaching their kids how to properly wear their backpacks, and speaking to teachers about limiting the number of books that their children take home.