Back Pack Troubles From Back-to-School Backpacks

by Dr. Sandra Simpson

Are you sending your child off to the first day of school with a brand new backpack slung over his or her shoulder? If you’re like most parents, a new backpack was on your child’s back to school shopping list. Although these bags have become as common as pencils and chalkboards in schools across the country, according to chiropractors, you may want to think twice before putting your youngster on the bus with this school yard ‘staple’. New research reveals an alarming danger associated with childhood backpack use.

This research stems from the increasing number of reports of childhood back pain in recent decades. By the end of their teen years, more than 50% of youths experience at least one low back pain episode (Spine 1998; 23:228-34). And new research indicates that this increase may be due, in part, to the improper use of
backpacks. But you don’t need to be a scientist to understand the effects of backpacks on young spines; watch children in any school yard struggle to walk while bent sideways under the weight of an overloaded backpack on one shoulder – and you’ll quickly realize the potential danger of this commonplace item.

But your child doesn’t have to be the only “un-cool” kid without a backpack this fall. Read on to learn how your youngster can carry a backpack and keep his or her  back pain and injury free!

Backpacks Attack on Backs

How exactly does carrying a backpack affect the spine? “Common sense tells us that a heavy load, distributed improperly or unevenly, day after day, is indeed going to cause stress to a growing spinal column,” explains Dr. Marvin T. Arnsdorff, chiropractor and co-founder of the Backpack Safety America school education program. “The old adage ‘as the twig is bent, so grows the tree’ comes to mind. We are seeing a growing concern about the improper use of backpacks and the relatively scarce amount of educational and preventive information available to young people.”

The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that 4,928 emergency room visits each year result from injuries related to book bags and back carriers. Schlepping around a back pack can cause not only acute injury, but also long term damage.


Five Steps to Preventing Backpack Related Injuries

    • With regular chiropractic checkups and a few simple preventive measures, you can keep your child injury free. Following are five winning tips from experts at the Backpack Safety America Program:

Ensure that your child’s backpack is sturdy and appropriately sized. Some manufacturers offer special child sized versions for children ages five to 10. These packs weigh less than a pound and have shorter back lengths and widths to prevent slippage.

  • Consider more than looks when choosing a backpack. An ill-fitting pack can cause back pain, muscle strain or nerve impingement. To help distribute the load, look for packs with padded shoulder straps and waist straps.
  • Ensure that the weight of your child’s pack does not exceed 15% of his or her body weight. Avoid overloading by prioritizing the items your child carries and eliminating unnecessary contents.
  • Teach your child to pack his or her backpack by evenly distributing the contents throughout the pack
  • Insist that your child never carry a backpack over one shoulder. Both shoulder straps – as well as the
    waist strap – should be used at all times.

(Courtesy of Backpack Safety America)


Hauling a heavy back pack over one shoulder every day may provoke serious postural misalignments. Postural imbalances often trigger a condition called vertebral subluxation. Vertebral subluxations are dysfunctional areas in the spine where movement is restricted or bones (vertebrae) are out of alignment. This disorder predisposes patients to a myriad of ailments such as neck and back pain, headaches and osteoarthritis.

In addition, a recent scientific experiment found that the mobility of spinal bones, leading to restricted movement – a risk factor for back pain (Surg Radiol Anat 1999; 21:109-13). Another study used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to examine the intervertebral discs of the spine, the fluid filled “pillows” between spinal bones. According to the article, backpacks alter the fluid content of these discs, a risk factor for disc herniation (“slipped disc”) and osteoarthritis (Spine
1999; 15:1015-22)

A Cure for the Back Pain Blues

Fortunately, there is a solution to this childhood health care crisis: chiropractic care. Chiropractors are experts in spinal biomechanics and backpack safety techniques. As prevention specialists, chiropractors work to educate the community about the proper use of backpacks. In addition, doctors of chiropractic offer spinal checkups for youngsters. These checkups include a thorough postural assessment, evaluation for vertebral subluxations, and specific recommendations for injury prevention. If you’re a parent, don’t ignore this potential threat to your child’s health. Schedule a chiropractic evaluation for your youngster today.

Copyright © Dr. Sandra Simpson: A practicing Chiropractor who loves to educate her clients and theirfamilies.