Can Scoliosis Be Caused by Carrying a Heavy Backpack? 

 June 1, 2023

By  Keith Terrell

For many people, carrying a heavy backpack frequently is inevitable. Doing so is uncomfortable but it can also cause numerous injuries and health problems. Because of this, some wonder if carrying a heavy pack can cause scoliosis.

Scoliosis isn’t caused by carrying heavy loads, no matter how extreme. It is caused by birth defects, traumatic injuries, cerebral palsy, infections, muscular atrophy or muscular dystrophy, or genetic conditions. It can also be caused by age-related problems, posture, and inflammatory conditions.

girl with back pain

However, using a heavy backpack can cause other types of back injuries. Read on to find out more on the link between your back and backpacks.

There is no association between using backpacks, even heavy ones, and scoliosis.

Scoliosis is a condition where the spine curves sideways. Its symptoms include uneven shoulders, an uneven waist, one hip may be higher than the other, or a shoulder blade that is more prominent on one side than the other.

Scoliosis can affect people of any age, but it’s more common in kids aged 11 and up. It typically affects kids who are going through a growth spurt right before puberty, though it can also affect the elderly. It is also known that girls have a higher risk of developing a curved spine, and genetics plays a role as well. If you have a family member who has scoliosis, you may get it too.

The symptoms of scoliosis aren’t always obvious, but individuals with mild cases tend to lean towards either the left or right side more, or have uneven shoulders, hips, and collar bones because of the spine’s curvature. In most cases, scoliosis doesn’t worsen and thus won’t require treatment, but in very few cases some people may need surgery to fix scoliosis.

While backpacks don’t cause scoliosis, carrying heavy loads on your pack can cause other types of spinal misalignment and problems. This is especially true if your backpack is heavy and its straps are too loose, or when you lean forward to make up for the extra weight, pushing the spine out of alignment. Prolonged use of heavy backpacks also leads to muscle weakness and fatigue, resulting in a misaligned spine, bad posture, and other conditions that can cause scoliosis among children and teens since these ages are when the spine still develops and they are more prone to scoliosis.

Can Using a Backpack Too Often Worsen Scoliosis?

Yes, excess weight on backpacks can aggravate scoliosis and make the spinal curvature worse. The extra weight carried on the back can strain an already curved spine, causing a mild case of scoliosis to become worse and may even require surgery or therapy later on.

Here are some tips to prevent scoliosis from worsening while using a backpack:

  • A backpack when full should be no more than 10-15% of your total body weight
  • Use both straps and make sure they are firm, hugging the body instead of loose and dangling; never wear a backpack with just one strap
  • Select a backpack with thick, padded straps for extra support as opposed to thin, narrow straps
  • Choose a small, lightweight backpack with waist or hip straps to ensure even weight distribution
  • Distribute your belongings on as many pockets in the bag as possible
  • Use a bag that is just the right size for what you need; one that is too large can increase the risk of overpacking and thus, making you more susceptible to shoulder and back pain
  • Don’t wear the backpack more than 4 inches past your waist

Having said that, any adult, adolescent, or child can benefit from using other alternatives for carrying their belongings if scoliosis is already present. A good alternative to a backpack for people with scoliosis are dual-side bags, wheeled luggage or wheeled backpacks.

Can Heavy Backpacks Cause Other Back Pain?

Using a backpack should not cause back pain, but using them incorrectly or for prolonged periods of time could lead to back pain. Wearing a backpack that is too heavy (or over 20% of your body weight) on a regular basis can make you prone to many types of back pain and back problems. 

Research also shows that wearing a backpack for too long can cause back problems too, so if you want to reduce your risk of backpack-related health issues, leave it on the ground whenever you don’t need to carry it. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How would you know if you have scoliosis?

The symptoms of scoliosis can vary among children and adults. The best way to do a quick self-check is to look in the mirror or have a doctor check for the following:

  • Uneven shoulders or shoulders with different heights,
  • Your head doesn't look centered
  • Your ribs look pushed out
  • One hip sticks out
  • Muscle pain and headaches also affect a small number of people with scoliosis; this is due to the changes in cerebrospinal fluid.

Going to a doctor is the most reliable way to check for scoliosis. They may use the Cobb angle measurement method to check for scoliosis, which assigns a value to the degree your spine deviates from its normal alignment.

What to avoid when you have scoliosis?

Being diagnosed with scoliosis is not a death sentence, but there are a few things you should avoid to prevent it from worsening:

  • Wearing backpacks incorrectly and carrying it too often
  • Texting or being on your mobile phone too often
  • Swimming, playing football, or doing sports or exercises without the help of a therapist or approval from your doctor
  • Sleeping on your stomach
  • Running long distances on hard surfaces
  • Jumping on trampolines
  • Carrying heavy things or weightlifting

Last but not least, don’t postpone treatment if you have scoliosis, no matter how mild. Always follow your doctor’s recommendations to avoid your condition from becoming worse. 

About the author

Keith is a one bag traveler and the owner of Backpacks Global. His go to backpack is the Osprey FarPoint 40.

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