How to keep kids’ spines healthy and happy

Orthopaedic surgeons advise proper backpack use to avoid long-term injuries.

Backpacks containing heavy textbooks and electronic gadgets such as laptops or tablets can be the cause of back-related pain in school-aged children. Injured muscles and joints can later result in posture problems as well as back, neck and shoulder pain.


According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), more than 26,000 individuals were treated in hospitals and doctors’ offices for injuries related to backpacks in 2015, and more than 10,000 of those injuries were kids 5 to 18 years old.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) urges parents and kids to consider lightening the load of backpacks to help avoid backpack-related injuries.

“Heavy duty backpacks must be worn and used correctly in order to avoid injuries such as strains, sprains and posture problems,” said AAOS spokesperson and orthopaedic spine surgeon Nitin Khanna, MD. “Use both shoulder straps to keep the weight of the backpack better distributed and adjust the shoulder straps to keep the load close to the back. Roller bags are also a good option, if easily used at your child’s school.”


The AAOS recommends the following tips to help eliminate discomfort and reduce the risk of backpack-related injuries.

  • School backpacks are for schoolwork. Carry only those items that are required for the day. If possible, leave books at home or school.
  • When lifting backpacks, bend at the knees.
  • Organize heavier things low and towards the center of the backpack to prevent any injuries
  • At home and at school, keep walkways clear of backpacks to avoid tripping over them.

Parents also can help with backpack-related pain:

  • Encourage your child or teenager to tell you about numbness or tingling in the arms or legs which may indicate poor fit or too much weight being carried.
  • If the backpack seems too heavy for the child, have them remove some of the books and carry them in their arms to ease load on the back.
  • Purchase a backpack appropriate for the size of your child.
  • Watch your child put on or take off the backpack to see if it is a struggle.
  • Encourage your child to stop at their locker throughout the day, as time permits, to drop off heavier books.
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