One thing that has remained the same for generations of schoolchildren from kindergarten through college is the regular use of backpacks. Backpack use can be a source of spine-related pain, as evidenced by results from a 2016 Italian study. Sixty percent of the students evaluated reported backpack-related discomfort, which was more prevalent in young and older adolescents. If ignored, back pain could lead to severe and long-lasting consequences, possibly even as serious as spinal fusion surgery. Los Angeles students and parents need to be aware of how to properly take care of their spinal health. Whether it’s you or your kids who wear backpacks, keep the following tips in mind to prevent spine-related problems.
A common reason for spine-related pain is a backpack that’s overloaded. Even if you have a backpack designed to carry an assortment of items, with convenient compartments and clips to hold phones, water bottles, and other extras, be cautious about how much you pack into it. Heavy books can affect spinal alignment, especially in younger spines that are still developing.
Heavy backpacks can also affect posture and force the lumbar (lower) spine forward, causing you to hunch over. Extra weight tugging on straps can affect muscles, tendons, and ligaments that support the neck and upper spine. Minimize backpack weight by:
• Keeping the weight to 10 percent of your body weight • Placing heavier items closer to your body • Making sure the weight is distributed evenly in the backpack
First of all, choose the right type of backpack. It’s best to go with one that has double straps so weight can be distributed evenly instead of on one side of your body. The straps should also be adjusted based on your height. A backpack shouldn’t sink down to the very bottom of your spine or the top of your buttocks. If it does, too much weight will be placed on your lower back. It’s also best to avoid backpacks that:
• Are so worn down that the weight won’t be distributed correctly • Make it too easy to simply stuff everything into one area (backpacks with compartments distribute weight better) • Are handed down from one child to another (especially among children of varying heights and weights)
The study on backpack-related pain suggests the length of time a backpack is worn may be a significant cause of spine-related pain. The reason could be that mindlessly carrying a backpack around all day places excessive and prolonged stress on certain parts of the spine, allowing time for inflammation to develop due to muscle irritation. Err on the side of the caution by:
• Only carrying your backpack when you need to • Putting your backpack down when you’re standing in one place for a while (e.g., waiting for a bus, talking to friends) • Considering a backpack on wheels if you need to regularly carry it around
Interestingly, the study also found that adolescent females are more likely to be affected than their male counterparts, possibly because of body structure differences.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that more than 14,000 children are treated each year for injuries related to backpacks. Backpacks are an everyday part of life for students of all ages, so it’s a good idea to be smart about how these particular accessories are packed and worn. Following the steps above can help you take good care of your spine. The expert physicians at The Spine Institute know all about spinal health, no matter what your age. If you’re having issues with back or neck pain, consult a Los Angeles spine surgeon to get an accurate diagnosis and discuss your range of treatment options. Call us today at 310-828-7757 to schedule an appointment.