Heavy backpacks can cause chronic back pain

Posted at 1:56 PM, Aug 08, 2012
and last updated 2012-08-08 15:56:20-04

(CNN) — It’s back-to-school time, and children nationwide will be lugging books to and from classes, many of them wearing backpacks.

But beware: Those heavy bags draped over your child’s shoulders could be the source of acute or even chronic back pain, says Dr. David Marshall, Medical Director for Children’s Health Care of Atlanta Sports Medicine Program.

“It’s estimated about 40 million kids are going to be carrying backpacks, and we’re starting to see more and more back pain complaints from the doctors in the sports medicine program,” states Marshall.

Between 2010 and 2011, backpack injuries in kids aged 5 to 18 increased 6.5%, from 12,924 to 13,766, according the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Injuries from backpacks Marshall sees include chronic back pain and imbalance, such as tripping and falling. If a child has a spine issue such as scoliosis, improper backpack technique could make the pain worse.

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the weight of a backpack should be less than 10-15% of a child’s body weight. A child weighing 100 pounds should carry a backpack that weighs less than 15 pounds.

However, “The dilemma is, even though we recommend that backpacks should weigh less than 15% of the kids’ total body weight, sometimes that’s not practical, because they may have a lot of homework or need to study for a test,” says Marshall.

If heavy books have to be carried, he suggests placing them closest to the child’s back. Another option – if the school allows it – is using a rolling book bag. Better yet, consider having two sets of books — one at home and one at school.

With increasing technology, Marshall says, “one of the solutions is to put some of the text books online … rather than carrying home a 700-page history textbook to read 10 pages.”

The material used to make the backpack also matters. Marshall points out that while leather backpacks may look nice, they add extra weight before it’s even filled. So he suggests a light-weight nylon bag.

Also look for backpacks with wider straps, says Marshall. – “Narrower straps can dig into muscles [and] they might even pinch a nerve.”

Some backpacks come with abdominal straps. Marshall recommends using them because they help redistribute the load evenly across the back.

By Katrina Charles
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