Every year, millions of students across the country can be seen toting around a backpack, often filled to the brim with books and other class materials. If you happen to be the parent or caregiver of one of those children and have ever picked up their “ready to burst” bag, you’re probably well aware of just how heavy those backpacks can be. And, if it’s something that puts a strain on your adult form, just imagine what the size and weight of it is doing to the shoulders, necks, and backs of your budding Einstein.
The purpose of a backpack is to allow an individual to carry a fair amount of items in a manner that’s not only practical but also in a way that distributes the weight of the load across the shoulders and back. Unfortunately, overload can easily occur which, in turn, can strain the shoulders, back, and neck – the exact areas that the pack was meant to spare excess strain. If our backs, in particular, are subjected to bearing heavy weights for extended periods of time, the body will attempt to compensate for the extra load. For instance, the natural curve of the mid and lower back can become distorted, causing muscle strain and irritation to both the spinal joints and the rib cage. Rounding of the shoulders can also occur, and falls are more likely because the individual wearing the pack is forced to lean forward in an effort to bear the weight, which reduces balance.
For students who choose to carry their backpack over one shoulder, muscles will strain even further in an attempt to compensate for the uneven weight. This causes them to lean to the side, stressing the mid- and lower back areas, as well as the ribs, and can cause muscle strains and spasms.
Regardless of how the pack is carried – be it over one shoulder or two – the muscles in the neck are affected as well, which can contribute to neck pain, arm pain, and headaches. Even though we know that carrying excessively heavy backpacks is something that can cause back pain in children, there is no evidence that any type of structural spinal deformity or permanent injury will result. If, however, back pain is something your child complains about regarding their backpack, one of the newer rolling backpacks might be a good option for all their school book/binder/notebook-toting needs.