Backpacks and the Growing Spine

Posted: September 9, 2014 in Chiropractic, Spine Remodeling
Tags: , ,


“Dear Dr. Doperak, as I watched my son leave our home this morning it was clear his posture wasn’t normal. I’m concerned. Should I be concerned or is this okay?”


Dr. Doperak: “Great question! Yes, you should be concerned; as a twig is bent, so grows the tree.

Posture is the window to the spine and a growing spine is subject to a particular law that dictates how bones grow due to stress. This law, known as Heuter-Volkmanns, states compressive stress slows bone growth whereas a lack of stress accelerates growth. So, to answer your question, the weight of your sons backpack is creating specific compressive stresses causing his body to compensate to maintain balance; this is why his posture is distorted and why you should be concerned.

Let’s continue working through this scenario. For example, if your son carries his backpack on the right side of his body, the compressive stress on the right would slow bone growth. This is not okay. Also, because the weight on the right side would cause him to fall to the right, you’d expect to see his body shift to the left across midline for balance; this could result in a left high shoulder, a left thoracic spine translation, or worse yet, a scoliosis.

Let’s talk about a potential solution. The BETTER scenario is to have the weight of his backpack evenly distributed between the left and right side but also between the front and back. Another consideration is that a heavy backpack placed over his back/spine will cause him to lean forward whereas the same heavy backpack placed in front of his body will cause him to lean back. Both scenarios created center of gravity issues over time and will also influence the way his bones grow negatively.

Now, let’s talk about the best case scenario. In my opinion, the BEST scenario is to equally distribute the contents of his backpack into two separate bags allowing him to carry one bag in his left hand and one in his right. Now, with the weight equally distributed between the left and right, as long as he walks upright maintaining good posture and positioning between the front and back, his daily activity will be beneficial and strengthening instead of detrimental.

Not sure this is worth the effort? The authors of a 2012 study referenced below conclude, ‘backpacks increase the risk of back pain and the possibly of back pathology. The prevalence of school children carrying heavy backpacks is extremely high. Preventive and educational activities should be implemented in this age group.’ So, a simple backpack that causes postural distortions can certainly have serious consequences to a growing spine. Help ensure your son’s growing spine has a fighting chance. Some minor adjustment can go a long way to a healthy spine for a lifetime. This is Dr. Doperak, signing off.”


Rodríguez-Oviedo , P et al. School children’s backpacks, back pain and back pathologies. Arch Dis Child. 2012 Aug;97(8):730-2.

Questions for Dr. Doperak? Call and schedule your complimentary assessment today, 602-689-0869. 

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