By: Dr. Joan Marie PellegriniWe see it all the time: small children carrying backpacks that seem larger than they are. Teenagers carrying backpacks on one shoulder that are so heavy they are leaning to one side. Is this a problem? It turns out this is the major cause of back and neck pain in school children. Experts recommend that a child’s backpack should weigh no more than 10% of their body weight. Heavier packs and improperly worn packs cause increased curvature of the spine, spine disc compression, and neck and muscle strain. This may not be a serious problem, but it can lead to unnecessary doctor visits, missed sports practices, and may interfere with study habits. There is no study to determine if there is any long term damage to the spine from years of heavy backpack use. However, it just makes sense that we should try to help our children avoid neck and back pain. We should occasionally ask about back and neck pain.When shopping for a backpack, chose one that is smaller rather than larger. This way it will limit the amount that your child can put into it. Also, there should be two padded shoulder straps and a waist strap. It helps if there are multiple compartments so that the load can be evenly distributed. Once your child has their pack loaded, have them put it on. Is it properly fitted? Does it weigh too much? Does it cause your child to change their posture because it is too heavy? Look to see what is in the pack. Can some items be left out? Can some books be left at home or at school? For particularly large text books, perhaps your child can get a copy of the part of the text book that is needed instead of carrying the entire book. Ask the school if there is an electronic version of the text book.