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Health and Wellness

Got backpack?

Back to school time should not be the start of aches and pains. But, for many kids it can mean visits to a doctor’s office. Every year before school begins, I write an article addressing backpack usage. Unbelievably, that time has arrived again. So, if you’ve read my articles before, please indulge me while I address what I believe is an important matter.The Sept. 8, 2003, issue of The Times Herald featured an article that expressed concern over children and their backpacks. It stated, “‘Trudging their way around the school campus or to the bus stop, hunched over kids could be dealing themselves a lifetime of back pain,’ experts warn.”A 2000 U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimate states when backpacks are used incorrectly, more than 13,260 injuries in children 5 to 18 years old are treated at hospital emergency rooms, doctor’s offices and clinics. CPSC also cites the statistic that backpack related injuries are up over 300 percent since 1996. The American Academy of Orthopedics stated backpack injury is a significant problem for children. The issue has become so widespread that in 2003 the California State Assembly passed legislation forcing school districts to develop ways of reducing the weight of students’ backpacks.In an online survey conducted last year of more than 200 chiropractors responding from across North America, it was learned that:

  • 89 percent of chiropractors surveyed have seen patients ages 5 to 18 with back, neck or shoulder pain caused by heavy backpacks.
  • 71 percent of chiropractors who see such patients currently see one to four patients ages 5 to 18 with back, neck or shoulder pain caused by heavy backpacks.
  • 20 percent of chiropractors who see such patients see five to nine patients ages 5 to 18 with back, neck or shoulder pain caused by heavy backpacks.
  • 9 percent of chiropractors who see such patients responded they see 10 or more patients ages 5 to 18 because of back, neck or shoulder pain caused by heavy backpacks.
The American Chiropractic Association offers the following tips to help prevent backpack problems in school children:
  • Make sure your child’s backpack weighs no more than 10 to 15 percent of his or her body weight. Pack only what is needed for the day. Carry a book or two by hand to relieve the load if necessary. If the backpack forces the wearer to lean forward to carry, it’s overloaded.
  • Organize your child’s supplies and books so that the heaviest items are closest to the center of his or her back and all compartments are used.
  • When lifting a heavy backpack, remind your child to bend using both knees and apply one shoulder strap at a time. Always avoid slinging the pack onto your back.
  • Persuade your child to stop at his or her locker often so they are not carrying all of their books throughout the day.
  • Choose right: The proper size backpack is 75 percent of the length of your back, about the space between the shoulder blades and the waist. The backpack should never hang more than 4 inches below the waistline.
  • Urge your child to wear both shoulder straps. Wide, padded straps are important.
  • The shoulder straps should be adjustable so the backpack can be fitted to your child’s body.
  • Some students opt for a messenger-type book bag. Students should avoid these single strap bags for carrying school books and supplies. If they are used, shoulder straps should be alternated from one side to the other and care should be taken not to over load the pack.
  • It is extremely important to teach your children correct postural habits that they can use during their lifetime. Teaching correct use of a backpack will help guide them in the right direction – more than likely they will use one through their college years.
  • Have your child examined by a chiropractor so potential spinal or postural problems can be addressed and corrected.

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