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Back (Pain) to School

It might be hard to fathom in the middle of summer, but kids will be back to school in just five short weeks. When they return, they’ll bring with them mounds of homework and heavy books, all carried in a trusty backpack.


Unfortunately, the loads of work they’ll be carrying in their JanSports can also cause loads of strain on their adolescent backs.

“Backpack loads are responsible acheter du viagra internet for a significant amount of back pain in children, which in part, may be due to changes in lumbar disc height or curvature,” write researchers Timothy B. Neuschwander, MD, of the University of California, San Diego, in Spine. “Over 92% of children in the United States carry backpacks that are typically loaded with 10% to 22% of their body weight. Thirty-seven percent of children aged 11 to 14 years report back pain, the majority of whom attribute the pain to wearing a school backpack.” (

This excess strain and the resulting pain can set kids up for a lifetime of chronic back pain and stiffness, resulting in poor posture and in extreme cases, even a bulging, herniated, or ruptured disc.

To understand how this can happen, you need to understand the mechanics of backpacks, and how children’s bodies cope with their weight. Heavy backpacks can pull a child backward, so to compensate, kids may either bend forward at the hips or arch their backs, causing unnatural spinal compression. When kids use just one shoulder strap, either to ‘look cool’ or because they don’t want to feel like Sir Edumund Hillary’s Sherpa, they can end up leaning over to one side in order to compensate for the extra load. This can lead to pain in the low back, upper back, shoulders and arms. Girls, who are typically smaller and often less strong, are particularly at risk, with heavy backpacks representing a larger proportion of their body weight.

Unfortunately, school workloads aren’t likely to markedly decrease anytime soon, and backpacks remain the best conveyance for Mackenzie’s social science text book and that dinosaur she got from Clayton. It’s important, therefore, to make sure that your child’s backpack does as little damage as possible. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents look for the following features when buying their child a backpack;

  • light weight; so that the weight of the pack itself doesn’t add to the load
  • wide, padded shoulder straps
  • a padded back to more evenly distribute load and prevent sharp objects inside the back from poking the child’s back
  • a waist belt to help carry the load at the hips instead of just the shoulders
  • multiple compartments to allow even load distribution.

Rolling backpacks are also available but may be of limited benefit on rough terrain or on stairs. If you buy a non-rolling backpack for your kid, there are separate attachments that enable the backpack to be rolled. Whatever backpack you choose for your son or daughter, just make sure that it fits well and doesn’t contribute to back strain any more than necessary.

Finally, talk to your BodyMend physiotherapist to learn about ways to help your kids strengthen and stretch their backs to minimize any postural defects or long term health effects from school back strain.

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