Newswise — Arlington, Va. -- Back pain is pervasive among American adults, and they are not alone. Young children are suffering from back pain much earlier than previous generations, and the use of overweight backpacks may be a contributing factor, according to the American Chiropractic Association (ACA).

As students return to school this fall—many in person for the first time in more than a year—choosing the right backpack and wearing it properly can help to alleviate pain. Studies have shown that backpacks exceeding 10% of a child’s body weight may cause not only back pain but also forward-head posture.

“In my own practice, I have noticed an increase in the number of young children who are complaining about back, neck and shoulder pain,” said Dr. Scott Bautch, president of ACA’s Council on Occupational Health. “The first question I ask these patients is, ‘Do you carry a backpack to school?’ Almost always the answer is ‘yes.’”

What Can You Do?

Dr. Bautch suggests using an ergonomically designed backpack. Following are his tips for parents on choosing the right backpack and helping children to wear them properly:

  • Make sure your child’s backpack, when packed, weighs no more than 10 percent of their body weight. A heavier backpack will cause your child to bend forward to support the weight on the back, rather than the shoulders.
  • The backpack should never hang more than four inches below the waistline. A backpack that hangs too low increases the weight on the shoulders, causing your child to lean forward when walking.
  • A backpack with individualized compartments helps in positioning the contents most effectively. Make sure that pointy or bulky objects are packed away from the area that will rest on your child’s back.
  • Bigger is not necessarily better. The more room there is in a backpack, the more your child will carry and the heavier the backpack will be.
  • Urge your child to wear both shoulder straps. Lugging the backpack around by one strap can cause the disproportionate shift of weight to one side, leading to neck and muscle spasms, as well as low back pain.
  • Wide, padded straps are very important. Non-padded straps are uncomfortable and can dig into your child’s shoulders.
  • The shoulder straps should be adjustable so the backpack can fit to your child’s body. Straps that are too loose can cause the backpack to dangle, causing spinal misalignment and pain.
  • If the backpack is still too heavy, talk to your child’s teacher. Ask if your child could leave the heaviest books or items at school and bring home only lighter hand-out materials or workbooks.

If you or your child experiences any pain or discomfort resulting from backpack use, consider visiting a doctor of chiropractic. Chiropractors are  trained and licensed to diagnose and treat patients of all ages. In addition, chiropractors can recommend ­­exercises designed to help children develop strong muscles, along with instruction in good nutrition, posture and sleeping habits. Learn more at