Evaluating the Backpacks of Teens with Back Pain

With the end of summer just around the corner, here's something to consider when you're shopping for school supplies: how heavy is your child's backpack?

Weighty backpacks have received increasing attention in recent years as the persistent cause of back, neck, and shoulder problems in kids. Research suggests that children with back pain often develop chronic symptoms lasting into adulthood, making it all the more important to tackle back and neck pain early in life.

Current guidelines recommend that backpacks shouldn't exceed 10-15% of a child's body weight. However new research suggests that those guidelines may need to be amended to account for gender differences and the type of school bag children use.

In a recent study published in the journal Applied Ergonomics, researchers analyzed the prevalence of back, neck, and shoulder pain in 586 schoolchildren aged 12-14 years. They measured children's weight, height, BMI, and the weight of their school. Children reported how they carried their bags (over one shoulder, with both shoulders, or carrying with a hand) and the type of bag they carried (back pack, satchel, or brief case).

The majority of kids (59.6%) reported some type of neck, back, or shoulder pain. More than a third of children (35.3%) reported neck pain, more than a quarter of kids (26.2%) had low-back pain, and 33% of children had shoulder pain.

Kids who carried backpacks for more than 20 minutes or who had heavier bags were more likely to suffer from neck pain. Those who carried a backpack were more likely to suffer from low-back pain compared to kids using a satchel or briefcase. Carrying school bags by one hand or over one shoulder only slightly increased the risk of neck, back, and shoulder pain.

Gender was found to have the biggest impact on the risk of musculoskeletal complaints, even after controlling for age and BMI. Girls were more than twice as likely to have back pain and nearly twice as likely to suffer from shoulder pain. These findings are in-line with previous research demonstrating the higher incidence of musculoskeletal conditions among girls. The researchers wrote that "gender differences need to be considered when setting weight limits for schoolchildren."

The study suggest that girls may need to take additional steps to prevent back, neck, and shoulder pain. Chiropractic care is a safe, effective way to prevent and reduce musculoskeletal pain in kids. A chiropractor can use chiropractic adjustments, posture education, and exercise to naturally relieve spinal pain.


Dianat I. Neck, shoulder, and low back pain in secondary schoolchildren in relation to schoolbag carriage: should the recommended weight limits be gender-specific? Applied Ergonomics 2013; 1-6.