Is Your Child's Backpack a Pain in the Neck?

Armin Brott's picture

by Armin Brott

Complaints about back and shoulder pain are increasingly common. Parents have every right to be concerned about how heavy their child's backpack is. In fact, overweight backpacks have been getting so much attention that April was declared National Backpack Safety Month by the Congress of Chiropractic State Associations.

Children, mostly under age 14, are reporting backpack-related pains that result from repetitive strain-schlepping packs from home to bus to school to classrooms to bus to home several times a day, five days a week. They typical overstuffed backpack weighs in at about 14 pounds, which is often 15% or more of a child's body weight, and that's too much. The strain of leaning forward to support the load is causing painful necks and backs and even changes in posture. Symptoms can be so severe that the kids have to be treated in emergency rooms.

Some kids have it even worse, hauling around packs that weigh as much as 40% of their body weight. Get out your calculator; If you had to lug 40% of your body weight in and out of cars and up and down stairs all day long you'd be in some serious pain too.

Fortunately, there may be some ways to save our kids backs:

  • Weight your child's backpacks once in a while and keep it under 10% of his weight.
  • Keep non-essentials to a minimum. Does your child really need to carry all those books at the same time? Will she use every one of them that day? If your child won't tell you, make a few calls to her teachers.
  • Investigate whether your child can share books with one or more of his classmates. That way each kid can carry a smaller portion of the total load.
  • If possible, arrange to have duplicate books at school. Or invest in a few paperbacks (particularly of literature books) and have your child keep the hard-covers at home.
  • If your child really does have to carry a lot of books, at least be sure to get the right kind of backpack. Single-strap packs cause the most discomfort because they're carried on one shoulder, which means that the child is always leaning to one side. The best -- and most comfortable packs -- have two padded straps and an abdominal belt.
  • Get a rolling backpack if your child's school allows it. Some don't though, because they're worried that students will get injured, trip, or fall over them in the classroom or the hallways. Why they aren't worried about the kids' backs is beyond me.
  • Treat your child to a nice neck/shoulder/back massage.

Armin Brott, hailed by Time as "the superdad's superdad," has written or co-written six critically acclaimed books on fatherhood, including the newly released second edition of Fathering Your Toddler: A Dad's Guide to the Second and Third Years. His articles have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, American Baby, Parenting, Child, Men's Health, The Washington Post among others. Armin is an experienced radio and TV guest, and has appeared on Today, CBS Overnight, Fox News, and Politically Incorrect. He's the host of "Positive Parenting," a weekly radio program in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Copyright ©Armin Brott. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org.