The Link Between School Backpacks and Dangerous Spinal Misalignment

It’s time for parents to get “backpack smart” when it comes to back injuries. School-aged children are increasingly experiencing serious pain and crooked posture as a result of backpacks that look more like heavy boulders than book bags. Wearing a backpack incorrectly can cause spinal issues that can follow a child into adulthood. As a parent, the last thing you want to do is set your child up for long-term back pain. It’s time to take action if you’ve noticed your child slouching, hunching, or stooping while wearing their backpack.

The good news is that simply being aware of the problem can help kids and parents take steps to reduce spinal strain caused by backpacks immediately. Nipping the problem in the bud now can help kids to avoid some potentially serious and painful back issues that can follow them into adulthood, impact spinal growth and cause severe pain. Take a look at what all parents need to know about the weight their kids are carrying!

Why Are Backpacks Bad for Back Health?

The simple answer is that it’s unnatural for kids to carry such heavy, bulky loads on their backs. The fact that backpacks are stuffed with heavy, rigid items like books or lunchboxes makes the problem worse because kids are forced to balance “boxy” backpacks on their backs. That means they often use poor posture to compensate. Here’s a look at why all parents should be cautious about backpacks:

  • When worn incorrectly, backpacks place excessive strain on the spine.
  • Spinal compression from heavy or uneven backpacks can cause subluxations that create problems throughout the body.
  • The strain from a backpack acutely impacts the neck and shoulders.
  • The way that children compensate for the weight and bulk of backpacks can even impact the knees.
  • A backpack can distort the curvature of the lower-back and mid-back areas.
  • A backpack can cause problems for spinal joints.
  • The pressure from a backpack can strain the ribs.

A heavy, uneven bag that is straining the neck and shoulders is bad for a person of any age. However, kids are uniquely susceptible to back issues caused backpacks because they are constantly growing. That means that a growing body will quickly compensate to adapt to strain and pressure. As a result, many kids are essentially “growing into” injuries.

We also know that subluxations can manifest in surprising ways. For some, that means chronic tiredness. Others experience mood issues. Decreased oxygen flow stemming from a blockage can also greatly hamper the immune system. As a result, some kids who have undiagnosed spinal problems walk around feeling tired and irritable. Many physicians are unaware of the connection between spine health and overall health. That means that some school-aged children are treated for conditions that they may not actually be suffering from.

How Common Are Backpack Injuries in Children?

Based on data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, at least 14,000 children in the United States are treated for injuries related to backpacks each year! While that number is quite high, it doesn’t represent the many children who don’t realize that there is a connection between the physical pain they’re experiencing and their backpacks!

What Can Parents Do to Help Their Kids Avoid Backpack Injuries?

The good news is that there’s a lot parents can do to help their kids avoid backpack injures! There’s actually a quick way to determine if the backpack your child is lugging around is appropriate. The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) recommends that backpacks should weigh no more than 10 percent of a child’s total body weight.

A good place to start is with picking out a quality, highly ergonomic backpack for your child. It’s also important to observe your child’s posture when they are standing with a full backpack attached to their back. Lastly, be sure to ask your child how the backpack feels when it’s on. Here’s a rundown of back-friendly backpack rules to follow:

  • Teach your child how to pack a backpack to create equal weight distribution. This means balancing heavier items with lighter items without “stuffing” a backpack into an unnatural shape.
  • Show your child how to wear a backpack with both straps properly in place. One strap should not be sliding down, digging into a shoulder or cutting across the neck.
  • When shopping for a backpack, look for one that has a waist strap. This will increase support while reducing direct strain on the back.
  • Look for backpacks with padded shoulder support.
  • Before leaving the house in the morning, help your child to adjust the straps on their backpack to account for thickness of any coats or jackets they may be wearing.

A backpack that fits properly should rest high on the back. Allowing a backpack to “drag” puts strain on the shoulders. However, you also want to make sure that your child doesn’t feel restricted in the shoulder area by a backpack that is positioned too closely to the body. Your child should be able to use a full range of motion in the neck and shoulders when a backpack is in place. Lastly, remind your child that they don’t need to be “married” to their backpack. Help them to create a plan for keeping a backpack in their locker as much as they can! If your child has a serious back issue, don’t be afraid to speak with teachers to see if there is a way to avoid carrying heavy books to and from home every day.

What If My Child Already Has a Back Issue Caused by a Backpack?

A backpack-related injury is not something that parents should simply allow to slide by. There is a danger in assuming that a child will simply “outgrow” back pain because of the rapid growth that children experience. It may be time to see a chiropractor if your child has complained of back, shoulder or neck pain. Many parents choose chiropractic adjustments for treatment of school-aged children with back pain because this is a gentle, noninvasive approach.

When examining your child, a chiropractor will look for signs of subluxations that are putting pressure on spinal nerves. Careful, strategic adjustments can be made to break up subluxations. The goal of alleviating subluxations is to allow the body to begin healing on it’s own without the painful, restrictive strain of compressive spinal nerves. A chiropractor will also be able to help your child discover techniques for better posture when wearing a backpack.

Final Thoughts on Preventing and Treating Spinal Issues Caused by Backpacks in Children

Yes, it is possible to naturally treat and correct back issues in children that are caused by backpacks. Prevention is always the best strategy. That means doing a “backpack check” as soon as possible to see if the backpack your child is using is truly a good fit. However, it’s important to give strain or injury proper attention right away if your child has complained of back pain! Be sure to bring your child’s backpack along to your chiropractic visit to get a first-hand opinion regarding any “red flags” you may be missing!