Back to school: Help your kids get some relief from carrying heavy back packs

By: Hackensack Meridian Health

HACKENSACK- How many parents watch their child lug a backpack filled with books and supplies off to school daily? 

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“Kids come in complaining of back pain, because they are carrying 20 to 30 pounds on their backs all day. For a sixth or seventh grader, who only weighs 100 pounds; this is a lot," Amit Merchant, D.O., Chief of Pediatric Orthopedics at Joseph M Sanzari Children’s Hospital at Hackensack Meridian Health Hackensack University Medical Center said.

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

“Intermittent back pain after a long day of lugging isn’t a huge issue and will usually go away on its own,” Paul Haynes, M.D., Medical Director of Pediatric Orthopedic Surgery at K. Hovnanian Children’s Hospital at Hackensack Meridian Health Jersey Shore University Medical Center said.

“But there are signs you should look out for that suggest; some treatment is necessary.”

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

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

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,” Merchant said. 

It helps to use a backpack with thick and padded shoulder straps, a waist belt and rolling backpack that would be so much easier to move around. 

“It can be tough to change a teenager’s mind,” Merchant said. “When all else fails, building up abdominal and core strength, and regular stretching can reduce back pain.” 

According to Haynes, physical therapist can be a great help and get your child on the right track and heat or ice around the back can provide some relief.

“Try to avoid medication if possible,” Merchant said. “But if the pain is severe enough, an occasional Motrin or Ibuprofen can help.”