Homework. Quizzes. Making friends. Kids have a lot to deal with at school, but back pain from a heavy backpack shouldn’t be one of them.
While parents can help their children make some simple adjustments to wear backpacks safely, there’s also a lot of misinformation out there about the topic. Let’s dispel 3 myths and see if you make the grade.
Myth #1: “Heavy backpacks can cause scoliosis in kids.”
Idiopathic scoliosis is a spinal abnormality of unknown cause. It involves part of the spine becoming over-rotated and curved from side to side instead of forward and backward. Even though scoliosis is typically first noticed and diagnosed in adolescents—about the same time many kids start carrying heavier books for school—current research doesn’t support the idea that a heavy backpack can structurally change a child’s growing spine.1
However, wearing a heavy backpack can overload a child’s back, stressing muscles, ligaments, discs, joints, and other structures while the spine struggles to compensate.
In the short term, a heavy backpack can lead to muscle strains and other injuries that cause pain in the back, shoulder, and/or neck. In the long term, it could lead to postural changes due to muscle imbalances and leaning forward too much.
Myth #2: “My kids will let me know if their backpacks are too heavy.”
Even if your child is strong and never complains about his or her backpack, you should still review backpack habits. It’s possible for a child to experience pain from a backpack but not say anything because the pain is mild (so far) or maybe it’s not obvious that the backpack is to blame.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a child’s backpack should only weigh at most 10% to 20% of total body weight.2 For example, a child who weighs 70 pounds should only carry a backpack that weighs 7 to 14 pounds.
To get a feel for various weights, have some fun letting your child experiment with different books in the backpack while standing on the bathroom scale.
Myth #3: “Kids shouldn’t wear backpacks.”
It’s easy to overreact and want to completely get rid of school backpacks for kids. But it’s important to remember that our backs were made for movement and activity. Staying active and giving our backs light work is healthy.
Here are some tips to help your child wear a backpack safely:
- Use both straps. Rather than putting the backpack over just one shoulder, keep the spine balanced by putting a strap over each shoulder.
- Buy a small backpack. A large backpack almost invites kids to put too much stuff in it. Pick one that’s just large enough to fit what your child needs.
- Observe your child. If you notice that your child struggles to put on the backpack or needs to lean forward while carrying it, the backpack is too heavy.
By taking time to learn about and monitor your child’s backpack habits, you can help their spines stay pain-free so their minds can focus on fun—and maybe some schoolwork too.
- Backpack safety. OrthoInfo Website. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00043. Updated August 2015. Accessed August 3, 2017.
- Back to school tips. American Academy of Pediatrics Website. https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/news-features-and-safety-tips/pages/back-to-school-tips.aspx. Published August 8, 2016. Accessed August 3, 2017.