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US School Children At Risk from Heavy Backpacks

Chiropractors offer tips to prevent back, shoulder injuries

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Parents take note -- when back to school shopping this year, there is one essential item that requires very special attention: your child's backpack.

Backpack weight is becoming an increasing problem, and studies show that heavy backpacks can lead to both back pain and poor posture, noted the American Chiropractic Association (ACA). In fact, in 2001 backpacks were the cause of 7,000 emergency room visits and countless complaints of muscle spasms, neck and shoulder pain.

This painful 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. According to Dr. Scott Bautch, a chiropractor from Wausau, Wis. "Many of these kids are carrying a quarter of their body weight over their shoulders for a large portion of the day. That's equivalent to a 180-pound man carrying around a 45-pound load."

Thankfully, backpacks have undergone a radical evolution in recent years and now many are designed to be ergonomic while remaining fashionable. Not to mention, the backpack of today has adapted to keep up with our changing lives. Children not only pack heavy schoolbooks, band instruments and running shoes into their backpacks, many of them also tuck away popular electronics -- such as laptops, cellular phones, MP3 players, CD players and personal digital assistants (PDA) -- into specially designed compartments inside their backpacks.

Bulging backpacks offer a significant risk to children, but parents can help limit the strain on young necks, backs and shoulders. The ACA offers the following tips to help prevent the pain caused by backpack misuse.

Backpack Buying Tips:

  • Make sure your child's backpack weighs no more than 10 percent of his or her body weight. A heavier backpack will cause your child to stoop forward in an attempt to support the additional weight.

  • The backpack should never hang more than 4 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 position 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, and try to place the heaviest items closet to the body.

  • 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 a 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.

  • 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.

  • If the backpack is still too heavy, talk to your child's teacher. Ask if your child could leave the heaviest books at school, and bring home only lighter handout materials or workbooks. Ask the teacher for a set of text books to keep at home.
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