Function vs Fashion -
Chiropractors, pediatricians and orthopedic surgeons
alike agree that backpacks are a problem for your
child’s spine. While alone they may not cause major
problems, overloading and improper carrying of a
backpack can lead to headaches, neck, shoulder, and
lower back pain.
An article published in Spine journal stated, “Of the
1,122 backpack users, 74% were classified as having
back pain, validated by significantly poorer general
health, more limited physical function, and more
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends
that a child’s backpack weigh no more than 10 to 20
percent of the child’s weight. While healthcare
professionals do not agree on the exact weight, the
consensus is that more than 10% of your child’s body
weight can lead to back and neck pain; and most
healthcare professionals agree that 15% or more of
their body weight can lead to severe back, neck and
shoulder pain as well as headaches and other spinal
discomfort; not to mention aggravating pre-existing
spinal conditions such as scoliosis.
How heavy is too heavy? Did you know that a 60-
pound child should be limited to carrying no more
than 9 pounds; an 80-pound child, 12 pounds; and a
100-pound pre-adolescent should carry no more than
It’s important to weigh your child’s backpack at
least once a week. If it exceeds 15% of your child’s
weight, then work with your child to evaluate their
backpack and lighten the load. The extra book,
binder, electronic device or water bottle can easily
add a hefty (and unnecessary) additional 10 pounds.
In a recent study by Consumer Reports, researchers
visited several schools in New York City and found
that kids in the 2nd and 4th grade were carrying
about 5 pounds worth of homework and books.
However, when kids reached the 6th grade, the
load got much heavier. The average 6th grader was
carrying a backpack that weighed over 18 pounds,
with some carrying as much as 30 pounds and
Consumer Reports suggests keeping the weight
Heavy or Too Heavy?
Lighten the Load
of the backpack closer to 10% of the child’s weight,
“Children can suffer low-back pain, too,” says Dr. Orly
Avitzur, a board-certified neurologist and medical
adviser to Consumer Reports. “A heavy backpack is a
strong contributor to low-back pain in children.”
Your first priority,
when purchasing a
backpack, is to
The Wellness Family
Dr. Giacalone Keeps You Infomed
Take a moment to show your child or teen the
importance of loading and carrying their backpack.
The heaviest items should rest against the back, which
means loading them first and attempting to distribute
the weight evenly. Since many schools are requiring a
child to have a laptop, it’s important to make sure that
it rests against the back, since it will clearly be the
heaviest item in the backpack.
While your child or teen may think nothing of carrying
their backpack slung over one shoulder, the truth is
that this fashion statement is damaging to their
developing spine; one shoulder is being required to
carry a burden that both shoulders and the back should
be sharing. The only proper way to carry a backpack is
with both straps over the shoulders and the backpack
resting against the lower back.
Your first priority, when purchasing a backpack, is to
select function over fashion. This request may be easier
said than done but years of using a fashionable but not
functional backpack can only lead to improper spinal
alignment, poor posture and eventually pain for your
child or teen.
Second, when looking for a better, functional backpack,
look for one that meets a few criteria; first, that the
backpack fits properly (not too long or too short); and
secondly, that it has wide, padded, adjustable straps (for
proper positioning on the back). Girls and shorter
children are more likely to have back pain from
Proper Loading and Carrying
Function vs. Fashion
backpacks, due to their smaller stature, so it’s important
to find one that fits well.
A third option is to look for a backpack with a hip strap
or lumbar pillow. The hip strap, when used, can
distribute a portion of the weight to the hips, easing the
load on the spine and shoulders. The use of a lumbar
pillow will provide the necessary back support to the
lumbar region where the greatest portion of weight is
being carried. When shopping you need to know that
the more support you buy, the less spinal stress your
child or teen will carry.
Finally, look for backpacks that will support what you
know your child will be carrying for school. For
instance, if your child needs to carry a laptop, look for a
backpack that has a laptop pouch or sleeve, as they will
typically be against the back and help ensure that your
child is loading their backpack properly. It is advised
that you do not purchase a backpack that is just one big
pouch as this will discourage proper loading by allowing
your child to cram everything in quickly.
Although one might think otherwise, roller bags are not
the answer. Despite the fact that they are taking the
weight off your child’s spine and shoulders, it should be
noted that an empty roller bag may weigh up to 80%
more than an empty backpack.
Furthermore, these bags run larger, inviting the owner
to overload the extra space with as much as 50 pounds.
Although these bags will be rolled, don’t forget that
your child or teen (and their developing spine) are still
at risk when they haul their bag up or down stairs or
retrieve it from the back seat of the car.
So, as you prepare your child or teen to return to
school, take a brief moment to educate them about
Watch your child as they put on their backpack, if the
weight of the backpack is making them hunch over, it
is probably overweight. Other symptoms of poor
backpack loading or carrying include:
• Aching of the shoulders, neck or back
• Pain, tingling or numbness in the neck, arms
• Weakened muscles
• Leaning to one side, backward or forward
• Red marks and creases on the shoulders
• Struggling to put on or take off the backpack
If your child is showing any of these symptoms, be sure
to talk with your Family Wellness Chiropractor about a
spinal screening to determine if an overweight backpack
may have caused any spinal deviations.
The Chiropractic Factor
Dr. Giacalone is dedicated to providing you with the
absolute best in family wellness care. So take a moment
today to discuss with your Family Wellness Chiropractor
any concerns you may have regarding your family’s
overall health and wellness.
This newsletter is provided to you by:
The Chiropractic Office of
Dr. Anthony Giacalone
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