Backpacks May Lead To Dangerous Stress on Children's Spines

Pittsburgh, PA: Overloaded back packs may lead to dangerous stresses and strains on children's spines which lead to back pain and set the stage for future degenerative spinal disorders (including slipped discs, arthritis and muscle problems).

For many students, "hitting the books" leads to academic achievement. Students who carry those books in overloaded backpacks may also be participating in the beginning of a health epidemic.
Scientific research reveals an alarming danger associated with improper childhood backpack use. This research stems from the increasing number of reports of childhood back pain in recent decades. By the end of their teen years, close to 60 percent of youths experience at least one low-back pain episode. And new research indicates that this may be due, at least in part, to the improper use of backpacks on young spines. Back pain leads to more than 19 million doctor visits per year, according to the U.S. Department of Human Health and Services. What will that figure be when the members of the "Backpack Generation" are in their thirties and forties?
Watch children in any schoolyard struggle to walk while bent sideways under the weight of an overloaded backpack on one shoulder. You will quickly realize the potential danger of this commonplace item. How exactly does carrying a backpack affect the spine? Common sense tells us that a load, distributed improperly or unevenly, day after day, indeed causes stress to a growing spinal column. The old adage "As the twig bends, so grows the tree" comes to mind. There is a growing concern about the improper use of backpacks and the relatively scarce amount of instructional and preventative information available to young people. It is not the backpack's fault that kids have not been given the guidelines.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that 6,512 emergency room visits each year result from injuries related to book bags. The CPSC also reports that backpack-related injuries are up 256% since 1996. "That is the beginning of an epidemic, one that will cause serious damage to a child's health for a lifetime," said Dr. Kevin Smith of Red Apple Wellness in Venetia, PA.
Do this "heavy" math: 12 pounds in an average child's backpack times 10 lifts per day equals 120 pounds lifted per day. This 120 pounds per day times 180 days per school year equals 21,600 pounds lifted in one school year. That is nearly 11 tons, or the equivalent of six full size automobiles.
In addition, a recent scientific experiment found that carrying a backpack alters the mobility of spinal bones and can lead to restricted movement-a risk factor for pain. Yet another study used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to examine the effect of backpacks on the intervertebral disc of the spine, the fluid-filled "pillows" between spinal bones. According to the report, backpacks alter the fluid content of these discs-a risk factor for disc herniation ("slipped" disc) and osteoarthritis.
Dr. Smith recommends the following tips for healthy and safe use of backpacks:
Make sure the backpack is sturdy and appropriately sized. Some manufacturers offer special child-sized versions for children ages 5-10. These packs weigh less than a pound and have shorter back lengths and widths so they do not slip around on the back.
Consider more than looks when choosing a backpack. An ill-fitting pack can cause back pain, muscle strain, or nerve impingement. You want to have padded shoulder straps to avoid pressure on the nerves around the armpits. Some backpacks have waist straps designed to stabilize the load. These should be used whenever possible.
The proper maximum weight for loaded backpacks should not exceed 15% of the child's body weight. For example, an 80-pound child should not carry more than 12 pounds in a pack. If the pack forces the carrier to bend forward, it is overloaded.
In loading, it is obvious that excessive backpack weight can cause problems. Prioritizing the pack's content is very important. Avoid loading unnecessary items. It is important to balance the weight of the contents or the body shifts into unnatural postures to compensate.
Often ignored is the act of lifting and positioning the pack. Lifting 20 pounds improperly can cause damage. Follow these simple steps:
• Face the backpack before you lift it.
• Bend at the knees.
• Using both hands, check the weight of the pack.
• Lift with your legs, not your back.
• Carefully put one shoulder strap on at a time. Never sling the pack onto one shoulder.
Use both shoulder straps. Make them snug but not too tight. Carrying the backpack on one shoulder, while fashionable, can cause long-term neck, shoulder, back, and postural problems. Use the stabilizing waist strap around the waist.

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Categories: Alternative Medicine

Tags: back pack, back pain, Children, children's health, safety, spinal care


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Dr. Kevin Smith
Press Contact, Red Apple Wellness
Red Apple Wellness
807 E. McMurray Rd. Suite 103
Venetia, PA 15367