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Backpack Dangers for Children and Adults

Backpacks are, bar none, a better option for carrying books and supplies than a shoulder or a messenger bag. The weight of what is being carried is evenly distributed across the body in which the back and abdominal muscles are used for support. However, backpacks that are not used properly, or if they are overloaded, can cause health problems for children, teens and even adults.

How Can Backpacks Cause Problems?

The human spine consists of 33 vertebrae: 24 presacral vertebrae (7 cervical, 12 thoracic, and 5 lumbar) followed by the sacrum (5 fused sacral vertebrae) and the coccyx (4 frequently fused coccygeal vertebrae). Between the vertebrae are disks that act as natural shock absorbers.

When improperly carrying a heavy weight on your shoulders, the force of the weight can pull you backward. Typically, most people will compensate this by bending forward at the hips or arching the back. This can cause the spine to compress unnaturally.

Those who compensate by leaning forward, over time, the shoulders can become rounded and the upper back may become curved. As a result, neck, shoulder and back pain can develop.

Carrying a messenger bag or backpack over one shoulder can result in lower and upper back pain in addition to straining the neck and shoulders. Backpacks must be worn properly otherwise bad posture may eventually occur.

If you wear a backpack that has tight, narrow straps that put pressure into the shoulders then nerves can be pinched and circulation issues may result. There could even be tingling, weakness and numbness in the arms and hands.

Children Are at Higher Risk

Many health care professionals recommend that children carry no more than 10 to 15 percent of their body weight in their backpacks. The reality is that many carry a lot more than that. Girls and younger children tend to be especially at risk for backpack-related injuries because they’re smaller and may carry loads that are heavier in proportion to their body weight.

Wearing school backpacks has a significant biomechanical, physiological and discomfort impact, especially with loads above 10 percent of the student’s body weight.

There are a multitude of health impacts that children and youth are experiencing such as:

  • poor posture (changes to spinal posture, lumbo-sacral angles, and thoracic kyphosis);
  • gait (increases in plantar pressure during foot-ground contact and increased double support);
  • increases in physical discomfort and muscle activity; and
  • increases in breathing rate.

Results of a 2003 review of backpack loads carried by school students was referred to by the National Institutes of Health in 2018. They said that during a school day, children were carrying as much as 30 to 40 percent of their body weight. This 2003 review noted that large, heavy backpacks were a relatively recent phenomenon. It addressed how there is an increasing number of high school students having less time between classes to get to their lockers so they must haul their backpacks with them throughout the day.  Nowadays there are larger textbooks, musical instruments, laptops, and other objects that are presenting areas of concern regarding student loads.

According to the National Institute of Health the weight carried by students, backpack pain and other health concerns have shown little to no improvement over the past 15 years and the recommended load of around 10 percent of the body weight is not always being met. It is highly recommended that if any student walks or rides a bike to school, then the backpack should be closer to the 10 percent mark.

Tips for Choosing and Using Backpacks

  • When purchasing a new backpack make sure it has two padded straps that go over your shoulders. The wider the straps, the better.
  • Hiking backpacks have a waist belt which helps to distribute the weight more evenly across the body. If it is at all possible, try to get a backpack with this strap. Also, backpacks with multiple compartments can also help distribute the weight more evenly.
  • Before placing items in your backpack, adjust the straps so the pack sits close to your back. If the pack hits against the lower back as you walk, the straps are inevitably too long.
  • Always pack your backpack with the heaviest items closest to your back.
  • Wear both straps over your shoulders.
  • Try a “back” pack with wheels. Lots of children use these as an alternative to backpacks. Even adults can benefit from this.

Adults and youth can consider strengthening their core muscles. From an overall health perspective, this is a great way to prevent back injury from not just carrying a heavy backpack, but from most physical activities. Weight training, pilates, and yoga are all activities that can be effective in strengthening these core muscles.

If you or your child is experiencing back discomfort chiropractic care has been proven to help.

Established in 2007 by Dr. Behalf Sanjari, Chiro-Med Rehab Centre has a proven record of commitment providing quality health care services in the Greater Toronto Area. Chiro-Med Rehab Centre has qualified professionals who can provide the services you need. Chiro-Med has clinics located in Richmond Hill and Newmarket, visit Chiro-Med online or call 905-918-0419 or 905-235-2620 for more information.