The results of a study on children carrying heavy backpacks was just published in January of 2010 in the journal Spine. The study showed that when weight was added to backpacks that children were wearing, their spines showed more compression and curvature. The weights were 9, 18, and 26 pounds. The children also reported more pain when more weight was added.

So, is it bad to carry weight on your back? Actually, when wearing a backpack, the weight rests on the shoulders, as is common in many countries around the world where people still have natural, healthy posture. We know that some of these people carry hundreds of pounds on their heads or shoulders, often for decades. They remain straight and active into their old age. (For a nice photo of carrying on the head, check out my blog: http://sonomabodybalance.com/blog/)

When you stand “in Balance” like these healthy people, the spine stacks vertically and is very strong. When you stand in the typical American posture, the weight no longer goes through a straight spine, and compensations and compression result.

In the study, the children’s spines became more curved to the left or right with added weight, and they had to adjust their posture to bear the heaviest weight.

The problem is that most children in the US today have unhealthy posture. They learn this from observing the culture around them. That’s why children who grow up in cultures with healthy posture maintain that posture throughout their lives.

Setting a Bad Example

I saw a prime example of how we learn this posture unconsciously when I was at the mall buying gifts for my nieces recently. The mannequins in the store windows had extremely “out of Balance” posture, with the pelvis thrust way forward. They were standing in an extreme backbend!

You might think, “Well, I don’t stand that way.” Actually, I didn’t think that I did either. I was so surprised to learn that I had some version of that exact posture that the mannequins were displaying! It’s wasn’t my fault – and it’s not your fault either. We just unconsciously pick up the posture we see modeled around us. I’d love to see these models change!

You Can Change the Pattern

Until then, the best thing you can do for yourself and your kids is to learn healthy alignment and practice it. You can model this for others, and maybe we can slow the rise in back pain being observed in children. Sure, it’s not great for young kids to carry heavy weights. But an equal problem is HOW they are carrying the weight.

The researchers said that the kids in the study were carrying the backpacks on both shoulders when being measured, but that if they were to carry them on one shoulder, the results could be even worse.

"Low back pain in children may be worsened by discogenic [disc-related] or postural changes," according to Dr. Timothy Neuschwander of UC San Diego. With the posture of most kids these days, that is no surprise. This CAN be changed. By learning the healthy posture and movement patters of Balanced people, you can reduce pain and improve your posture for life.

If you’d like to get some help with your posture while carrying a backpack, (or your kids’ posture), you can contact me for a private Balance Method session. With healthy alignment, you can carry your backpack in total comfort!

(© 2010 Dana K. Davis. If you want to use this article in your E-zine or website, please credit Dana K. Davis, MA, www.sonomabodybalance.com.)

Author's Bio: 

Dana K. Davis, MA, is a Certified Yoga Teacher and a Certified Balance Posture Instructor. She is the owner of Sonoma Body Balance, a posture and yoga studio in Petaluma, CA. For more information about the Balance Method, visit www.sonomabodybalance.com.