Backpack Weight Linked to Back Issues in Children

With loaded backpacks, MRI finds compressed lumbar discs, asymmetry; back pain reported
By Eric Metcalf
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Feb. 5 (HealthDay News) -- Increasing backpack loads are associated with more back pain, lumbar asymmetry, and decreases in lumbar disc height in children, according to research published in the Jan. 1 issue of Spine.

Timothy B. Neuschwander, M.D., of the University of California in San Diego, and colleagues analyzed data from eight children (mean age, 11 years) who underwent lumbar magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans while standing, with repeated scans while wearing a backpack containing 4-, 8-, and 12-kilogram loads. These loads roughly equaled 10 to 30 percent of subjects' body weight. According to the authors, most U.S. children carry backpacks often loaded with 10 to 22 percent of their body weight, and 37 percent of 11- to 14-year-olds report back pain.

The researchers found that increasing loads in the backpacks compressed lumbar disc heights. Backpack loads were also correlated with lumbar asymmetry. Using a visual-analogue scale, children also associated the backpack loads with increasing back pain, with pain correlated with backpack loads.

"This study is the first radiographic analysis to describe the lumbar spine in children wearing backpacks. Lumbar asymmetry induced by backpack loading is a new and unexpected finding. Low back pain in children may be worsened by discogenic or postural changes," the authors write. "Future studies should be directed at upright MRI analyses of spine loading in children with idiopathic low back pain and compared with the present study of normal children."

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