Many parents worry about the effect that carrying a heavy backpack to school can have on their child's spine. We asked Dr. Derek Kelly, an orthopedic surgeon with Campbell Clinic and Le Bonheur Children's Hospital, what parents need to know. Here's what he had to say:

Backpacks are often blamed for all sorts of spine conditions in school-aged children. Most of this blame is unfair to the poor, misunderstood backpack. There is currently no scientific data to link backpack use to spinal deformity conditions like scoliosis or kyphosis. However, back pain is very common in children and teenagers, and some of this pain is possibly related to the use – or improper use – of backpacks.

When carrying a backpack, kids should:

  • Pack lightly.
    Only carry necessary items. Do not carry every book home every day; only carry those books needed for homework that night or that weekend. Leave the rest in the classroom or locker.

  • Use both straps.
    The weight of a backpack is best distributed across both shoulders. Most backpacks are designed to evenly spread the weight across both shoulders, and using the pack in this manner is safest.

  • Use rolling packs.
    Use a rolling pack or bag when possible to keep the weight of the back.

  • Exercise regularly.
    Regular physical activity, particularly exercises designed to strengthen the core muscles (abdominal muscles, spine muscles, buttock muscles, and upper thigh muscles), can help reduce the frequency and severity of back pain.

  • Stretch often.
    Hamstring tightness is a major contributor to back pain in children and adolescents. Routine stretching of these muscles is very important.