If you see kids struggling to stay upright as they walk to school, literally weighed down by their backpacks like helpless turtles, you might wonder if carrying this load on a daily basis can deform the shape of a growing child’s spine. Certainly carrying any heavy load can cause pain and strain, but can backpacks cause scoliosis?
Scoliosis and Causes
People who have scoliosis have an abnormal curve in their spine. Unlike the gentle “back to front” curve common in the average spine, scoliosis is characterized by a sideways “S” shaped curve. There are a number of theories about the causes of scoliosis, but no one knows for sure. Some think that genetics determine if you get scoliosis, in part because children are more likely to develop the disease if a mother or father had it, too.
What about Backpacks and Scoliosis?
Because most cases of scoliosis are diagnosed in school-aged children, many suspect heavy backpacks might be to blame. Though it seems to make sense that carrying a heavy backpack could bend and twist the spine, especially over a long period of time, there’s no evidence that this is the case. While carrying a heavy backpack can cause soreness, strain, backache and shoulder pain, it cannot cause scoliosis. In fact, extreme sports and exercise doesn’t cause scoliosis, either; nor does poor posture.
Treatment for Scoliosis
Treatment for scoliosis depends on the severity of the symptoms, which is defined by the percentage of curvature determined at the time of initial treatment, not diagnosis. Diagnoses before puberty are most beneficial to curtail any increase of curvature that may occur during pubescent growth spurts. Once diagnosed, most scoliosis is treated by wearing a brace. Many parents and pediatricians also encourage children with scoliosis to do sports and activities such as ballet and swimming to strengthen the core and back muscles.
In adults, severe scoliosis that has not responded to medical therapy may require surgery to help correct abnormal alignments of the spine and relieve pressure on the spinal cord.
What about those backpacks?
There is a right way and a wrong way to carry a backpack. The wrong way is to carry everything on one shoulder, or to keep the backpack hanging loosely at the lower back. Instead, take a tip from hikers and Soldiers who often carry up to half their body weight on long journeys. First, ensure straps are padded. Second, ensure the backpack is resting above your hips and neck with straps secured tightly over the shoulders and not pulling on the neck. Lastly, buckle the strap across your waist to secure the backpack tightly to your body.
Since the odds of a middle- or high-schooler wearing a backpack in this fashion may be is slim to none, consider encouraging teachers to provide hand-outs of assignments, vs. asking students to carry home heavy text books. Check to see if text books may be online, and be sure to encourage your student to clean out any excess items from their backpack. If possible, purchase a backpack on wheels.
Scoliosis can start gradually, with the curvature of the spine getting worse with age. Because the spine can deform faster later on in life, as much as 2 degrees in a year, early diagnosis is essential as is being monitored closely by a specialist. Extreme cases of adult scoliosis may result in breathing problems and issues with fatigue and heart problems.
STAR Spine & Sport specializes in a variety of noninvasive treatments for both chronic and acute back pain, scoliosis and sciatic nerve pain. We want you to be pain-free.
For more information, and to schedule a consultation, call us today at (303) 238-4277 or fill out our easy-to-use online appointment request form now. We have several convenient locations to serve you in Golden, Westminster, and Denver. From back braces and medication to massage and physical therapy, there is a treatment that can work for you.