Backpacks and Back Pain: 6 Ways to Help Your Kids Get Some Relief   

Backpacks and Back Pain: 6 Ways to Help Your Kids Get Some Relief

Child putting on backpack
Clinical Contributors to this story:
Paul Haynes, M.D.
Amit Merchant, D.O.

How many of you watch your child lug a backpack filled with books off to school each day? Good news, they’re learning! Bad news, those heavy books could be causing back pain.

“I see this often in my office,” explains Amit Merchant, D.O., chief of pediatric orthopedics at Joseph M Sanzari Children’s Hospital. “Kids come in complaining of back pain, and we find out it’s because they’re carrying 20-30 lbs. on their backs all day. For a sixth or seventh grader who only weighs 100lbs, this is a lot.”

Dr. Merchant explains that a child really shouldn’t be carrying a backpack around all day that’s more than 20% of their body weight.

When Back Pain Becomes an Issue

“Intermittent back pain after a long day of lugging isn’t a huge issue, and will usually go away on its own,” explains Paul Haynes, M.D., medical director of pediatric orthopedic surgery at K. Hovnanian Children’s Hospital. “But there are signs you should look out for that suggest some treatment is necessary.”

They’re asking for medication: The severity of back pain ranges a lot, but if your child starts to request medication for relief, it may be time to seek help from a physician.

It’s interfering with extra-curricular activities: If your child is losing interest in sports or other hobbies, because of back pain, that’s pretty significant.

They’re having trouble sleeping: Similar to back pain interfering with extra-curricular activities, back pain shouldn’t interfere with a child’s ability to sleep at night.

How to Help Kids Get Relief from Back Pain

“There are several routes you can take to help your child find relief from backpack-induced back pain,” says Dr. Haynes. “And the good news is, if you follow these recommendations, the back pain can be corrected.”

Options for relief include:

  1. Limit the weight of the backpack: This may be obvious, but reducing the amount of weight a child is carrying around is the simplest way to get relief. “This could mean visiting the school locker more often to pick up and drop off books, and carrying only what is needed for the next class, versus a whole day worth of books,” says Dr. Merchant.
  1. Find the right backpack: It helps to use a backpack with thick and padded shoulder straps, and a waist belt if possible. Another option is to use a rolling backpack that would be so much easier to move around.
  2. Focus on strengthening and stretching: It’s always good to offer another option if your kid refuses to change his/her backpack or hit the locker more often. “It can be tough to change a teenager’s mind!” says Dr. Merchant. “When all else fails, building up abdominal and core strength, and regular stretching can reduce back pain.”
  3. Go to physical therapy: “Unsure of exercises to do at home, or feel that professional help is needed to help guide your child? A physical therapist can be a great help, and get your child on the right track,” says Dr. Haynes.
  1. Heat or ice: In addition to everything mentioned above, heat and /or ice around the back can help provide some relief.
  1. Medication as a last resort: “Try to avoid medication if possible,” says Dr. Merchant. “But if the pain is severe enough, an occasional Motrin or Ibuprofen can help.”

“Children really shouldn’t have to deal with back pain at such a young age,” says Dr. Haynes. “Checking in on them regularly and suggesting these simple ways to prevent or reduce pain should alleviate any issues caused with heavy backpack use.” If the pain persists, it may be time to see a doctor.

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.


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