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  • Writer's pictureDr. Jordan Quint

The Effects Backpacks Have on the Adolescent Spine

Back pain that begins in the adolescent years is considered to be a precursor to chronic low back pain as an adult. More than 90% of children in the United States carry backpacks, therefore, being instructed on proper backpack use is imperative. Dr. Jordan can evaluate your student and instruct on the proper wear. Carrying backpacks incorrectly at a young age can lead to long term back pain. Over 60% of adolescents ages six to 19, reported back pain associated with backpack use, according to a clinical study printed in The Spine Journal. This study found the amount of time students spent carrying backpacks and the position of the backpack played a key role in their back pain. Additionally, other studies showed the weight of backpacks are responsible for a significant amount of back pain in children. The study discovered that carrying heavy backpacks can cause compression of the spinal discs, especially in the lower spine. As backpack weight is increased, children adjust their posture in order to bear the heavier loads, which cause increased forces on the discs, leading to low back pain. The study stated that a significant amount of back pain may be due to changes in lumbar disc height or curvature resulting from the backpack weight. These changes were noted in the lumbar spine MRI scans of the participants while standing with backpack loads at 10, 20 and 30 percent of their body weight. Changes in the lumbar disc height can be caused by wear and tear, which can lead to degenerative disc disease.

If your school age child carries a backpack, it is recommended that a child’s backpack should weigh no more than about 10% of his or her body weight. Backpack weight should be distributed evenly by using both straps. Wearing a backpack slung over one shoulder will cause a child to lean to one side, which curves the spine and causes increased force on the discs, leading to pain and discomfort. Shoulder straps should be well-padded and the bottom of the backpack should rest in the curve of the lower back. It should never rest more than four inches below the child’s waistline. Being aware of these simple guidelines can help avoid chronic low back pain.

Bring your children in, along with their backpacks, for Dr. Jordan to evaluate and determine the appropriate weight and wear style.

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