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Backpacks, Back Pain, & Chiropractic Care

O My Aching Backpack!

Traditional school schedules will be starting up very soon. The popular choice for transporting needed books and school supplies has frequently been either a backpack or a large purse or tote. These accessories do hold everything you need, which is great for those on the go. Although convenient and useful, improper use of these bags can lead to problems for your back. Carrying heavy purses and backpacks can lead  to misalignments of the neck and mid back and cause pain and stiffness.

Back Pain Affects Health and Performance

In a recent study in Spine, 2003, completed with over a 1,000 students and the effects of back pain and health affects, it was reported that adolescents with back pain displayed "significantly poorer" general health scores, performed fewer physical activities, and had more general bodily pain than the adolescent without back pain.

Other studies have identified injuries, falls, and the improper use of backpacks as probable causes of adolescent back pain. It is important to determine why a adolescent is suffering from neck or back pain and not to discount it as a side effect of growing. Pain, including ongoing chronic pain, is a warning sign that should be evaluated, treated, and monitored. 

Weight Matters

My first recommendation to avoid back and neck injuries from back or shoulder "totes" is that it should not be heavier than 5% of your body weight. This means that a 100-pound person should not carry a purse or backpack that weighs more than 5 pounds. Most people fill their purse and backpack to capacity and then they are on their way. Many also carry laptop cases that exceed this weight by the laptop alone. It is a good exercise to weigh your filled backpack or tote before wearing it.

Shoulder Imbalance

Another "test" is to put your backpack or purse on your shoulder. Is one shoulder higher than the other to compensate for the weight of the bag? Imagine carrying it for several hours and the potential injury becomes an understood reality. 

Increased Back Injuries in Children

Many of the patients I see in the office are children. Most visits are for the results of injuries like falls or other accidents, or to assist with nerve interference "conditions" such as asthma, digestion problems, allergies, and such. However, I also see numerous children whose reason for the visit is to seek assistance for chronic back pain. Backpack use and poor sitting posture are the two top causes for a majority of these injuries. If we consider just the 5% rule, we can see why children are injuring their backs. For example, a 70-pound child should not carry a backpack that weighs more than 3.5 pounds. The weight of the backpack and the books, laptops, and myriad of supplies that is in the backpack usually measures inbetween 7-10 pounds! Many children also opt to wear their backpack on one shoulder, which increases the risk of injury.  The longer a child wears an overweight backpack, the more damage that is done to the spine.

Women and Girls at Greater Risk

In the reported studies, girls are at greater risk for back pain conditions due to back packs and other apparel accessories, probably due to the fact of lesser muscle mass or body weight. Increased risks also double with adding accessories, like carrying a backpack or tote AND a purse.

Tips from the (Chiropractic) Trade

Make sure that the load you or your child are carrying does not exceed more than 5% of total body weight.

  • The bag or backpack should not hang more than 4 inches below the waistline.
  • Instead of one large purse, consider a smaller purse and an additional tote bag for the extras.
  • Utilize the small compartments in a backpack. This distributes the weight more evenly and reduces the risk of injury.

Chiropractic Care Can Help...

If you or your children are experiencing any pain or discomfort resulting from a heavy backpack or purse, or other problems, including injuries or accidents, call our office at 775-852-8000. I treat patients from newborns to golden-agers. I can determine the source of the problem and start a treatment plan to get you back to pain-free health on the playground or in the classroom, at home or work, swiftly and drug-free.