Backpacks might help soldiers to carry 30Ib plus loads in the military, however a newly published piece of research  has determined that wearing them contributes to back pain in children.
Previous studies have noted that heavy backpacks cause shoulder, neck, and back muscle tightness - even abnormal curve in the spine - and that adolescents with back pain are more likely to continue to feel pain into adulthood [2,3].
The new study, which was conducted in Spain, recorded the incidence of back problems in 1,403 school children aged 12-17 years. Over the course of a year, the researchers collected data on the number of days of back pain, diagnoses of scoliosis (an abnormal sideways curving of the spine), and kyphosis (think of the hunchback of Notre Dame).
Experts recommend that children using backpacks carry no more than 10% of their body weight.  A 75Ib child would carry a maximum of 7.5Ibs on their back.
- 92% of the 1,403 school children used a backpack with 2 shoulder straps;
- When loaded with books, on average the children's bags weighed 14Ibs;
- 61.4% of children carried more than 10% of their bodyweight on their backs;
- 25.9% of the children carrying more than 10% of their body weight experienced back pain for more than 15 days during the previous year.
- The most frequent pathology was scoliosis, followed by lower back pain, and contractures (shortened and hardened) muscles, all of which are painful.
- Girls had a higher risk of back pain, and the risk of injury increased with age.
Why backpacks may cause pain
The compressive force of the weight of the pack on the spine may, in combination with being seated in poorly designed school chairs and poor postural awareness in general, cause vertebra to gradually shift out of healthy alignment. This can causes the spine to curve laterally (as in scoliosis) and to shift into a hunchback position (kyphosis), which looks obvious and leads to muscle pain.
Disks between the vertebra may also shift out of alignment as a result of wearing backpacks, and this is especially likely in the lower back because the disks in the lower lumbar and upper sacral area are especially vulnerable to displacement. When a disk moves far enough out of place it will touch a nerve, producing a shooting pain.
If your children are going to school and carrying heavy books and gym clothing in their backpack, it might be time to switch away from backpacks to save your children from lifelong pain.
If you are an adult who uses a backpack or shoulder bag for camping or travel, or a student in university, schoolbooks can weigh several pounds each, and the mass of survival gear and carry-on shoulder bags can easily creep up, causing postural problems and pain.
Using a backpack, especially when the weight is more than 10% of your body weight, puts you more at risk for shoulder, neck, and back pain, in addition to postural problems that may stay with you for life if you are unaware of how to correct them.
If your kids are carting their books to school in backpacks, then please remember that they are unlike soldiers, and so they can live more healthily without backpacks. Children and adolescents like to emulate adults, and so allowing them to browse online and choose a stylish carry-on luggage bag with wheels and a long handle - which they can pull along - is healthier for their spine.
1. Rodriguez-Oviedo, P., et al. (2012). School children's backpacks, back pain and back pathologies. Archives of Disease in Childhood, doi:10.1136/archdischild-2011-301253.
2. Hestbaek L., et al. (2006). The course of low back pain from adolescence to adulthood: eight-year follow-up of 9600 twins. Spine, 31, 468–72.
3. Negrini S, & Negrini A. (2007). Postural effects of symmetrical and asymmetrical loads on the spines of schoolchildren. Scoliosis, 2, 8.