Sep 14, 2017 by spinalcare

It’s that time of year again! Parents go school shopping to get the latest and greatest trends for their kiddos. An essential for many school-aged kids is a back pack. However, the proper way to wear a back pack is not well understood by most parents and can lead to neck, back, and shoulder pain in children.  Knowing how to properly fit a back pack can prevent or delay the onset of back and neck pain in a generation that is already prone to ailments such as “text neck”.

The American Chiropractic Association created guidelines that address the correct weight, fit, compartments, and size of the bookbag. When the guidelines are followed the risk of a child (or adult) developing neck or back pain due to the use of a bookbag are greatly reduced.

The weight of the bookbag should be no more than 10-15% of the child’s bodyweight. The heavier the bookbag, the more the child leans forward to counter balance the extra weight, which adds unnecessary stress to the midback musculature. Take a 7-year-old first grader for example. According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, a 7-year-old boy within the 95th percentile using weight and age weighs 68 pounds, while a 7-year-old-girl weighs 69 pounds. Therefore, the backpack of a 1st grader should be no heavier than 7-10 pounds. To put the weight into perspective, it is no more than a gallon of milk.

The fit of the bookbag should not exceed more than four inches under the waistline. The same damage producing stresses that occur with a heavier bookbag hold true with a bookbag that sits lower on the back: it causes the child to lean forward. To avoid this added stress, adjust the straps of the bookbag to allow it to sit higher on the back.  In addition, a back pack should always be worn with both straps.  Its quicker and easier to grab it by one strap and sling it over one shoulder, but that unequal distribution of weight will quickly lead to neck, back and shoulder pain.

There are compartments on back packs – use them! When odd shaped objects are placed in the bigger compartment objects protrude and poke into the back.  In addition, adding too much to the main compartment of the bag causes the bag to have a center of gravity further away from the wearer.   This again will cause the child to lean forward to counter balance. Place odd shaped objects into compartments within the bookbag and that will more evenly distribute the weight and alleviate potential problems.

The size of the bookbag is important; the bigger the bookbag the more likely the child is to fill it, only making it heavier. The size of the straps also plays a role in how the weight of the bookbag is distributed atop the shoulders. Wider straps are suggested as it allows for a larger distribution of weight.

Utilize lockers provided on school property. They are there for convenience of the students. The location of the locker may not be always convenient, but it can provide great practice in time management for the student. While time is limited between classes, time can be made before or after lunch to swing by the locker and switch out books that are needed. Stopping by the locker during the school day will reduce the chance of experiencing pain due to carrying books the entire school day that are only needed for one period.

In June 2016, a study that was published in The Spine Journal that looked at 5,318 Italian students aged 6 to 19 years and found more than 60% had bookbag-related pain. It was also found the length of time the bookbag was carried had a significant impact on the pain. Therefore, rather than wearing a backpack when standing in place, put it down.

Trends come and go, but whatever you do avoid being following the sling bookbag trend! The sling bookbag is a bookbag that goes over one shoulder. We have discussed how the weight of the bookbag isolated to one shoulder would cause more stress not only on the shoulder, but also in the neck and back. Rarely do we make blanket statements regarding the onset of pain because everyone has different thresholds, but we will make the bold statement of: wearing a heavy sling bookbag over an extended period WILL cause neck and back pain.  Resist any temptation to keep up with the latest trend that may be a sling bookbag; after all, pain is never a trend to want to follow!

Children go through a lot of changes, both physically and mentally. If your child has neck, back or shoulder pain and may not be wearing his/her bookbag correctly, first address any corrections in size, fit or wear. The American Chiropractic Association compiled easy steps to follow to allow for better ergonomics when wearing a bookbag. If the neck, back, or shoulder pain persists, your friends at Spinal Care are here to help get your child out of pain and stay out of pain.