Chiropractors and pediatricians agree backpacks are a problem for a child's spine. It is usually not the backpack by itself that causes the issues, but rather the improper carrying of the bag as well as overloading that can lead to headaches and neck, shoulder and lower-back pain.

Chiropractors and pediatricians agree backpacks are a problem for a child's spine.


It is usually not the backpack by itself that causes the issues, but rather the improper carrying of the bag as well as overloading that can lead to headaches and neck, shoulder and lower-back pain. 


According to a 2003 article published in Spine,"Of the 1,122 recorded backpack users, 74 percent were classified as having back pain, validated by significantly poorer general health, more limited physical function and more bodily pain." 


The question that arises with backpacks is how heavy is too heavy?  Any amount of weight greater than 10 percent of a child's body weight risks the introduction of back and neck pain, and carrying more than 15 percent of their bodyweight poses serious risks of severe back, neck and shoulder pain, headaches or other spinal pains. Too heavy of a load can also aggravate preexisting spinal conditions, such as sports injuries or scoliosis.


So a 60-pound child should carry no more than 9 pounds; an 80-pound child no more than 12 pounds; and a 100-pound child no more than 15 pounds.


To help prevent pain or injury, find a bag with wide, padded, adjustable straps to allow it to fit any sized child. You also want to make sure that the backpack fits your child properly, not being too short or too long. 


Another option is to find a backpack with a hip strap or a lumbar support. The hip strap can distribute a portion of the weight to the hips, lessening the load on the spine and shoulders. The lumbar support will provide support to the lower back, where the greatest portion of the weight is being carried.  Consider this: The more support features provided on the bag you purchase, the less spinal stress your child will carry.


As a responsible parent, there are things you can do to help your child. First, every Sunday, empty out your child's bag and review what he or she has inside. You will be shocked at the things they accumulate over the course of the week. 


Second, check the straps for proper shoulder placement, and make sure the bottom of the bag is 2 inches above the waist and resting in the curve of the lower back. 


Third, remind your child of the importance of wearing the bag on both shoulders to help prevent postural problems. 


Fourth, weigh your child's bag at least once a week to make sure they are within the safe range of less than 10 percent of their body weight. 


Last and most important, regular spinal check-ups can help to prevent postural or spinal problems before they even begin. Check their shoulder and head level at least once a month to determine if they are showing early signs of repetitive stress on their ever-growing spine. 


My role as a chiropractor is to inform parents that years of wearing a backpack improperly or with too much weight can lead to improper spinal alignment, poor posture and eventually pain for their child. Like dentistry, early detection of these issues and correction is the key to better health.


Dr. Michael Jones is a chiropractor at The Chiropractors – Springfield in Illinois. For questions or comments call (217) 726-0422 or drmike@silverichiro.com.


-- BeHealthySpringfield (Ill.)