A kid with back pain?
How to make sure your child’s backpack is helping, not hurting.
Juice Staff Published: 10/21/2019
Now that school is fully in session, and homework, projects, and book reports are due, you may notice your child is bringing more and more home in their backpack. From lunchboxes to textbooks, there’s plenty your kid needs to succeed. But can they shoulder it all?
Kevin Neal, MD, chief of Pediatric Orthopedic Surgery at Wolfson Children's Hospital and Pediatric Orthopedic Fellowship director at Nemours Children's Specialty Care, recommends weighing your child’s backpack to be sure it’s not too heavy for them. This is especially important as the school year wears on and students are in the thick of schoolwork, sports, and other after-school activities which may fill up their bags with gear.
“To measure the weight of a backpack, the best way is to have a child stand on the scale with the backpack, then without the backpack, and subtract the difference,” Dr. Neal explained. “The general recommendation, which comes from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), is that the upper limit should be about 10% of body weight. So, for a 100-pound child that’s about 10 pounds.”
A too-heavy backpack can cause problems over time according to Dr. Neal. All people become susceptible to back pain as they age, and carrying around heavy loads only worsens the issue. Doing so multiple times a day throughout an entire school year? That’s bound to add up.
“Back pain becomes very common in all humans starting around middle school after children go through puberty,” he said. “50% of teenagers experience back pain, and so do 90% of adults. Heavy backpacks can make things worse.”
Dr. Neal added that choosing the right backpack style can also help prevent back pain in students of any age. Rolling backpacks seem like an obvious solution, but he said many schools won’t allow them because they can cause tripping accidents. Instead, focus on finding the best fit.
“Look for backpacks with two wide, well-padded straps and a waist strap to help distribute the bag’s weight more evenly across the body. Placing heavier items, like laptops or textbooks, closer to the back is ideal, so choose a bag with compartments that allow for easy partitioning,” he said.
While causes of significant back pain or spinal degeneration are rare in children, Dr. Neal wants parents to seek a professional opinion if concerned.
“If a child has an unusual amount of back pain, I would highly encourage them to see a physician to ensure there’s nothing serious going on,” he said.
If your child is experiencing back pain, whether from a heavy backpack or something unknown, call Nemours Children's Specialty Care at 904.697.3600 to schedule an evaluation with a pediatric orthopedic specialist.