The research confirms that heavy backpacks can be a heavy burden on children’s posture.
Wearing backpacks that are too heavy can cause serious strain to the Posture System, compromising children’s bio mechanics. With correct education of proper backpack posture prevention of postural distortion patterns associated with heavy backpack use can be established.
Get the Facts – Research review of Backpacks & Bio-mechanics
The National Safety Council (2018) concludes that backpacks that are too heavy can cause back and shoulder pain and poor posture.
Backpack loads carried by schoolchildren should be limited to 10% body weight due to increased forward head posture and subjective pain complaints at 15% and 20% body weight loads of backpacks (Kistner, Fiebert, & Roach, 2012).
Backpack loads are responsible for a significant amount of back pain in children, which in part may be due to changes in lumbar disc height or curvature as noted on MRI studies (Neuschwander et al., 2009).
Carrying backpacks increases the risk of back pain and possibly the risk of back pathology. The prevalence of school children carrying heavy backpacks is extremely high (Rodriguez-Oviedo et al., 2012).
Patients have asymmetric posture while walking with a backpack and with a trolley bag. Carrying backpacks can cause forward posture. While pulling a trolley there was a significant increase in thoracic and lumbar rotation (Schmidt & Docherty, 2010).
Results showed that rectus abdominis muscle activities increased progressively and disproportionably as the backpack load increased. Patients wearing backpacks with 20% of their body weight caused the most significant muscular and postural changes. Backpacks this heavy should be avoided (Al-Khabbaz, Shimada, & Hasegawa).
Backpacks with a lower load placement on the spine result in less postural adaptions for children including less trunk forward lean, forward head posture, and spinal lordosis (Brackley, Stevenson, & Selinger, 2009).
Education regarding backpack usage may impact the middle school aged child by improving their quality of life as noted through a decrease in reports of musculoskeletal pain by participants (Feingold & Jacobs, 2002).
When carrying a modified double pack (weight in front and back), the forward head angle and forward head distance decreased when compared to carrying a backpack. These findings indicate that the modified double pack minimizes postural deviation (Kim et al. 2008).
Healthy Backpack Tips for Your Children
Do not carry backpacks that are more than 10% of your body weight
Always wear backpacks with two straps over the shoulders
Pack heavier items such as textbooks closer to your spine in the back of the backpack
Avoid spinal twisting while pulling a trolley bag
Balance the weight of your body while carrying a backpack over both hips and both feet equally from right to left
Avoid bending forward to compensate for the weight of the backpack
Balance the weight load distribution by carrying a double backpack with weight in the front and the back
While walking with a backpack keep your head up and pull your chin back so your ears are aligned over your shoulders
· Al-Khabbaz, Y., Shimada, T., & Hasegawa, M. (2008) The effect of backpack heaviness on trunk-lower extremity muscle activities and trunk posture. Gait and Posture, 28(2) p. 297-302.
· Brackley, H., Stefenson, J., & Selinger, J. (2009) Effect of backpack load placement on posture and spinal curvature in prepubescent children. Children and Ergonomics, Work, 32(3) p. 351-360.
· Feingold, A. & Jacobs, K. (2002) The effect of education on backpack wearing and posture in a middle school population. Work, 18(3) p. 287-294.
· Kim, M. Yi, C., Kwon, O., Cho, S., & Yoo, W. (2008) Changes in neck muscle electromyography and forward head posture of children when carrying schoolbags. Ergonomics, 51(6) p. 890-901.
· Kistner, F., Fiebert, I., & Roach, K. (2012) Effect of backpack load carriage on cervical posture in primary schoolchildren. Work, 41(1) p. 99-108.
· National Safety Council (2018) https://www.nsc.org/home-safety/safety-topics/child-safety/backpacks
· Neuschwander, T., Cutrone, J., Macias, B., Cutrone, S., Murthy, G., Chambers, H., & Hargrens, A. (2009) The Effect of Backpacks on the Lumbar Spine in Children A Standing Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study. Spine, 35(1) p. 83-88.
· Rodriguez-Oviedo, P., Ruano-Ravina, A., Perez-Rios, M., Garcia, F., Gomez-Fernandez, D., Fernanzez-Alonso, A., Carriera-Nunez, I., Garcia-Pacios, P., & Turiso, J. (2012) School children’s backpacks, back pain and back pathologies. Arch Dis Child, 97 p. 730–732
· Schmidt, J. & Docherty, S. (2010) Comparison of the posture of school children carrying backpacks versus pulling them on trolleys. Clinical Chiropractic, 13(4) p. 253-260.