Back pan is pervasive among Americans adults, but a new disturbing trend is emerging. Young children are suffering from back pain much earlier than previous generations, and the use of overweight backpacks is a contributing factor, according to the American Chiropractic Association (ACA). In fact, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that backpack-related injuries sent more than 7,000 people to the emergency room in 2001 alone.
This new back pain trend among youngsters isn't surprising when you consider the disproportionate amounts of weight they carry in their backpacks--often slung over just one shoulder. A recent study conducted in Italy found that the average child carries a backpack that would be the equivalent of a 39-pound burden for a 176-pound man, or a 29-pound load for a 132-pound woman. Of those children carrying heavy backpacks to school, 60 percent had experienced back pain as a result.
The results of these types of studies are especially important as more and more school districts--many of them in urban areas--remove lockers from the premises, forcing students to carry their books with them all day long.
In fact, the problem has become so widespread that the California State Assembly recently passed legislation that would force school districts to develop ways of reducing the weight of students' backpacks. Similar legislation is being considered in New Jersey as well. The ACA believes that limiting the backpack's weight to no more than 10 percent of the child's body weight and urging the use of ergonomically correct backpacks are possible solutions.
What Can You Do?
The ACA offers the following tips to help prevent the needless pain that backpack misuse could cause the students in your household.
The shoulder straps should be adjustable so the backpack can be fitted to your child's body. Straps that are too loose can cause the backpack to dangle uncomfortably and cause spinal misalignment and pain.
- Make sure your child's back pack weighs no more than 5 to 10 percent of his or her body weight. A heavier backpack will cause your child to bend forward in an attempt to support the weight on his or her back, rather than on the shoulders, by the straps.
- The backpack should never hang more than four inches below the waistline. A backpack that hangs too low increases the weight on the shoulders, causing your child to lean forward when walking.
- A backpack with individualized compartments helps in positioning the contents most effectively. Make sure that pointy or bulky objects are packed away from the area that will rest on your child's back.
- Bigger is not necessarily better. The more room there is in a backpack, the more your child will carry-and the heavier the backpack will be.
- Urge your child to wear both shoulder straps. Lugging the backpack around by one strap can cause the disproportionate shift of weight to one side, leading to neck and muscle spasms, as well as low-back pain.
- Wide, padded straps are very important. Non-padded straps are uncomfortable, and can dig into your child's shoulders.