Misconceptions Clarified About Kids Backpack Use

Children will likely always need backpacks during their school years to lug around books and other essentials, plus a few extra accessories. Constantly carrying around a fully loaded backpack isn’t good for a developing spine. However, there are some common myths about children and backpack use. Santa Monica spine surgery experts are here to dispel three of these myths.

1. Heavy Backpacks Contribute to Scoliosis in Children

Scoliosis, a sideways curvature of the spine, often occurs in children when they have a growth spurt just prior to puberty. While this is about the time when kids start to carry heavier backpacks as homework demands increase, there is no clear evidence linking backpacks to changes with the structure of the spine. However, heavy backpacks can stress spine-supporting muscles and other soft tissues. Incidentally, there’s research suggesting it’s the time spent carrying a backpack, not the weight, that contributes to back pain.

2. Children Will Say Something If They Are Having Backpack-Related Pain

Not necessarily. It’s entirely possible for a child to have mild pain that quickly goes away once a heavy backpack is taken off when he or she gets to school or comes home, so he or she may not make the connection. In some instances, it may not be obvious that the discomfort experienced is backpack-related. This may be the case if a heavy backpack is carried in a way that stresses spine-supporting muscles and irritates nerves enough to produce symptoms felt elsewhere, usually in the arms, shoulders, thighs, or legs.

3. Children Shouldn’t Wear Backpacks at All

An Italian study of more than 5,000 students ages 6 through 19 found that 60 percent of them experienced backpack-related pain. Does this mean kids shouldn’t wear backpacks at all? When properly used, backpacks serve a useful purpose by making it easier to carry books and other materials from one location to another without having to strain other muscles or risk falling in the process, so there’s no need for parents to stop letting kids wear backpacks. What parents can do is take some precautions by:

  • Choosing an appropriate backpack for their child’s height and weight
  • Observing if their child is having difficulty putting on or taking off the backpack (if so, it’s probably too heavy)
  • Purposely opting for smaller backpacks to discourage over-stuffing
  • Encouraging their child to only pack what he or she needs for the day and leave the extras at home or in his or her locker
  • Reminding their child to only carry the backpack when necessary (mindlessly wearing it everywhere isn’t good)

Double-strapped backpacks that evenly distribute weight are better than single-strapped ones. Backpacks with hip and chest belts can increase balance and ease strain on neck and shoulder muscles. Weight within a backpack should also be evenly distributed. The standard recommendation is that a backpack shouldn’t weigh more than 10 to 20 percent of a child’s body weight.

Though spinal conditions are sometimes present in children, they are far more common in adults. If you are experiencing severe pain in your neck or back, reach out to the expert surgeons at The Spine Institute. We specialize in a variety of spinal procedures, including spinal cord stimulation and laminectomy back surgery. Santa Monica residents who are seeking relief for their chronic pain should call 310-828-7757 today to schedule an appointment.