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“Back to School” Should Not Include Back Pain for Students

By Kristi Lott Davidson, PT, ATC, LAT
Clinic Director at STAR Physical Therapy in Selmer, TN

“Back to School” Should Not  Include Back Pain for StudentsWhen summer comes to an end and the hustle and bustle of a school regimen begins, you want to make sure you are preventing back pain with what your student is carrying. Uneven stresses on the spine can cause muscle imbalances and lead to back pain. Here are some guidelines to follow while shopping for a new back pack for school.

1.    The backpack should not extend above the shoulders.

2.    The backpack should not rest below the contour of his/her back and ideally it should sit evenly in the middle of the back.

3.    The fit of the backpack should include the shoulder straps resting comfortably on the shoulders and underarms with arms free to move. Padded straps allow for even pressure over the shoulders.

4.    Hip and waist straps should be tightened to hold the pack near the body. A waist strap can dramatically help to redirect the load away from shoulders and onto the much stronger waist and hip muscle groups. Different compartments in the backpack allow the child to keep loads in place. If the load shifts, it can increase the stress on the back. Also, different compartments allow the child to put flat things next to the spine and pointy things away from it.

5.    In order to avoid excessive loads on the spine, the weight of a pack should not exceed 15% of the child’s weight.

6.    When carrying the backpack, both shoulder straps should be used and the pack kept in the center of the spine. When the backpack is carried on one shoulder, this changes the mechanics and forces on the spine and can lead to muscle imbalances. Also, spinal forces increase with distance from the body’s center. If a child is standing or walking with a forward lean with the backpack on, this increases the external forces on the spine. This can lead to pain and possibly functional scoliosis or a curve in the spine.

If your child complains of constant back pain, talk to your pediatrician and make sure it is not a serious problem. A referral to physical therapy may help to alleviate back pain in adolescents. Working on core muscle strength including back, hips, and abdominals may help to decrease back pain. Refer to the following charts for recommendations on weight and sizes for backpacks.

Kristi Lott Davidson, PT, ATC, LAT
Kristi Lott Davidson, PT, ATC, LAT is the Clinic Director at STAR Physical Therapy in Selmer, TN. In 2009, she returned to her hometown to open a STAR Physical Therapy clinic. She graduated from McNairy Central High School in 1995 where she lettered in four sports: basketball, volleyball, cross-
country, and softball. Kristi graduated from Lambuth University in Jackson, TN where she played basketball and received her degree for Athletic Training. She graduated from University of Tennessee Health Science Center in 2002 with a Masters in Physical Therapy. She enjoys working in an outpatient orthopedic clinic where she is able to use her athletic training and physical therapy skills to rehabilitate the young and old. Along with her husband, Brandon, they have two children. She can be reached at her email:

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Selmer TN 38375

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