While back pain is a known and widely studied development in adults, it also impacts our school-aged patients too! School-aged children are going through an important time in their neuromuscular development – their bones, muscles, and nervous systems are maturing at an exponential rate! Wearing backpacks that are too heavy or unevenly distributed can compromise their biomechanics in the form of increased forward head posture and rounded shoulders.
If a child is already afflicted with some capacity of postural distortion, a heavy backpack can significantly worsen these conditions. Backpacks should generally be limited to no more than 10% of their body weight.* Increased forward head posture and subjective pain complaints occurred in patients carrying 15% to 20% of their body weight.* These patients experienced the most significant muscular and postural changes during the study. Furthermore, having an imbalanced backpack can unevenly distribute the weight to one side of the body. This places asymmetrical strain on the cervical, lumbar curve, and shoulders. A two-strap backpack is ideal to ensure optimal balance when carrying heavier loads. Be sure to cinch the straps soundly so that the bag is secure and closest to the spine. Packing items on wheels is another option if your child or children’s school permits trolley backpacks. This can save their musculoskeletal structure from the strain of heavy backpacks but can also lead to increased thoracic and lumbar rotation.
Carrying heavy backpacks may increase the risk of back pain and back pathology in school-aged children. To demonstrate the importance of backpack safety, one of our school-aged patients volunteered to illuminate the postural distortion patterns that can arise when carrying heavier weights. When the heavy and improperly worn backpack is added, her head moves slightly forward. The weight of her head increases from 9.9lbs to 12.3lbs – representing a total change of 23.4%. This can cause significant increase in dysfunctions such as neck pain, headaches, and jaw alignment challenges.
- Avoid backpacks that are more than 10% of their body weight;
- Wear backpacks with two straps over the shoulders;
- Pack heavier items closer to the spine;
- Avoid spinal twisting while pulling a trolley bag;
- Avoid bending forward to compensate for the weight of the bag;
- Keep your head up and pull your chin back so your ears are aligned over the shoulders; and
- Opt to not use a backpack when possible!
If you are concerned or curious about the optimal fitting of a backpack, bring in your child or children’s backpacks for Dr Jassal to adjust to their unique frame this month!