Back To School News To Use: Is Your Child’s Backpack Hurting Their Spine?


18.4 to 30 pounds: that is how much weight one study found that 6th graders were carrying in their backpacks. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that a child’s backpack weigh no more than 10 to 20 percent of a child’s weight.

“I switch out at lunch. It is 22 pounds in the morning and 21.7 pounds in the afternoon,” explained one 6th grade student when asked about the weight she carries on her back for school. She weighs 87 pounds so according to the American Academy of Pediatrics she should carry an 8.7 to 17.4 pound backpack.

With facts like this it is no surprise that over 30% of children between 11 and 14 years old report shoulder, rib cage, neck and back pain. Heavy backpacks can cause lumbar disk compression, lumbar curvature and muscle fatigue. Prolonged exposure to carrying backpacks that are too heavy can cause the shoulders to become rounded and the upper back to become curved.

We asked Dr. Stephen Courtney, board-certified, fellowship-trained orthopedic spine surgeon who has been practicing medicine in Plano since 1995, what he recommends to minimize the risk that backpacks will cause pain in children.

“It starts with the right backpack,” said Dr. Courtney. “The best choice is a backpack made of lightweight material, with wide, well-padded shoulder straps and back and a waist strap. Some students are choosing a backpack on wheels. That’s fine, but most likely you are still going to have to pick it up at some point in the day. Sometimes you may be carrying it up or down stairs so wheels are not a reason to pack a 50 pound bag.”

“The next step is using that backpack properly – you’ve got to double strap. That’s how you distribute the weight evenly. Tighten the straps once they are on the shoulders so it is close to the body as possible. Remember to bend – at the hips and knees – when lifting the backpack.”

“Next step – don’t overstuff it. The weight of the loaded backpack should not exceed 10 – 15% of the student’s body weight. Get rid of the stuff you don’t need for class. Focus on the essentials. Build in time for locker stops to unload and reload.”

Finally, there are some exercises that students can do to build muscle and make the load easier to carry but first things first. According to Dr. Stephen Courtney, board-certified, fellowship-trained orthopedic spine surgeon in Plano who has been practicing medicine since 1995:

  • Get the right backpack
  • Carry it the proper way
  • Don’t overstuff it

Dr. Stephen Courtney is a board-certified, fellowship-trained orthopedic spine surgeon who has been practicing medicine in Plano since 1995. He has worked tirelessly to develop superior operative techniques to treat neck and back disorders. Dr. Courtney’s straightforward, honest approach puts his patients at ease and has earned him an excellent reputation among his colleagues, his community, and most importantly, his patients.

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