With recent research showing a rapid increase in the incidence of back pain in children, responsible parents are making sure to ask all the right questions to keep their children healthy. Now that school is back in session, parents are asking if their child’s backpack can be a potential risk to their health.
To put it succinctly, the research on the subject is inconclusive and can be at times contradictory. Because of the ambiguous data, we can’t hang our hats on any scientific breakthroughs on the subject. We can, however, learn how to be observant of our children’s behavior to see if they have pain, poor posture, or aberrant biomechanics. In regards to the research, the only really good news is that there is nothing out there that shows that backpacks can be a direct cause of scoliosis. Scoliosis is of course, one of the bigger concerns surrounding a developing child’s spine, so rest assured that your child’s backpack wouldn’t cause it.
The parent that uses common sense can take care of most of these backpack-related issues on his or her own. For example, if your 75lb kid comes home carrying 45lbs of books on their back on day one, it will be pretty obvious that you need to step in. Same thing goes for the kid that has their shoulders hunched up into their ears to keep the bag on their back or strains their neck from using a backpack that gets pulled on wheels. Observing your child’s behavior should usually catch any problems before they surface.
To set your child up for the best results, use these 3 simple guidelines:
1. Make sure the child has no issue lifting their full bag up to put on their back. If they have trouble lifting the bag with both arms, it won’t feel so good weighing down their shoulder
2. Advise your child to use both shoulder straps. This isn’t shown in backpack research, but it is scientifically accurate to say that carrying a weighted bag over one shoulder too much does force the muscles on the carrying side to work harder, and over time can cause muscle pain, tension, and strain, as well as vascular or nerve issues.
3. Tighten the shoulder straps to position the bag higher up on your child’s back. In human biomechanics, we move easier when carrying objects closer to areas of strength. If your child’s backpack is loose and hitting them in their low back, it’s going to pull back harder on their shoulders and hyperextend their spine.
If your child does have back pain, bring them to someone you trust who can actually do more for them than prescribe something. Find the cause of the pain, fix it, and if the pain is too much at any point, the medical doctor will get you the pain meds needed. A chiropractor (DC) or physical therapist (PT) can do more for your child in most non-trauma related situations, but be careful to choose the right kind of DC or PT. If your chiropractor wants to see your kid 3 times per week for 6 months, leave quickly and find the doctor that knows that most kids don’t need more than 5 adjustments to get over a simple back issue. Same goes for the physical therapist; look for the doctor that has a good game plan for your child, and a good track record, and not the one that hooks your kid to every machine in the office so they can bill insurance for every procedure under the sun.
The real thing parents should worry about with backpacks: broken computers. Kids throw things. It’s what they do. If your kid carries a computer or tablet in their backpack, rest assured that it WILL break unless properly harnessed into a backpack with a built-in compartment for that device. Most of you will have this figured out already, but for those of you that haven’t, you have been warned!