From Chris Adams,
Backpack Misuse and the Pain it Inflicts on our Children
Backpacks are a common site in today’s schools. Almost every child seems to carry one in some form or another. And there is ample evidence to link backpack misuse or overloading to the back pain more and more children are reporting.
Recent studies have reported that up to 64% of children suffer from back pain (Negrini, 1999). That number may be alarming, but it does not really matter. What matters is if your child is one of them.
Studies from John Hopkins Children Center and many other places have shown that backpacks cause back and shoulder pain and poor posture in children. Here are the numbers:
- The average student has a visual analog pain scale level of 4.3 with some reaching an 8-9, as reported by Northeastern University in June of 2001.
- From a survey by the American Academy of Orthopedics: 71% of doctors feel backpacks are a clinical problem, 58% see patients with pain related to backpacks, and 52% think that this is a serious problem.
- 55% of students carry an overloaded backpack, as reported by Simmons College in February of 2001.
- 3,300 children aged 5-14 were treated in emergency rooms in 1997 for backpack related injuries according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
- An Auburn University study showed that 67% of children suffered muscle soreness, 51% back pain, 24% numbness and 15% shoulder pain.
- 65% of adolescents’ doctor visits are due to backpack injuries as reported by National Public Radio in October of 1998.
Features to Look For
- Lightweight: we don’t want to carry any more weight than we have to.
- Wide Padded Straps: they distribute the load over the shoulders and make things more comfortable.
- Padded Back: this makes things more comfy as well. A lumbar support in the padding will also help prevent slouching.
- Separate Compartments keeps things neat and organized and keeps the load where you placed it.
- Waist Strap: it helps transfer the load to the hips. A strap between the two shoulder straps is a good feature as well as it helps prevent slouching.
- Size: the pack should not be larger than the child’s back. Learn how to size the child's back for a backpack. Also consider that the more room in the pack the more stuff will fit in it. That’s a bad thing.
- The acceptable load in a backpack is related to the child’s weight. Do not overload. Overloading is the chief culprit in backpack related injuries. The American Physical Therapy Association, American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, and the American Chiropractic Association recommend these weight limits:
- 60-75 lbs. can carry 10 lbs.
- 100 lbs. can carry 15 lbs.
- 125 lbs. can carry 18 lbs.
- 150 lbs. can carry 20 lbs.
- 200 lbs. can carry 25 lbs.
- No one should carry more than 25 lbs. in a backpack.
- Pack only what you need.
- Pack heavier items at the bottom. The goal is to transfer the weight to the hips. A backpack with separate compartments helps keep the load where you place it.
- Pack flat items where they will rest on the back keeping bulky or pointy items away from the back.
- Use both shoulder straps. Always use both shoulder straps.
- Tighten the shoulder straps so that the backpack hangs slightly below the shoulders with no more that 4 inches hanging below the waist line. Note: the waist line is where the belly button is, not the hips.
- Use the waist and chest straps.
- Wear the pack only when necessary.
- Keep a second set of heavy text books at home if possible. Or ask the teacher to use handouts instead of textbooks for homework.
- Use separate packs for separate activities. You don’t need to carry athletic or after school gear while in class.
- Try a different style of pack. A saddle bag design that goes over the head with a bag on both the front and back is a good option. Using a rolling back pack is good as well. Just ensure the handle on the roller bag is long enough so that your child does not need to stoop. Do NOT use a shoulder bag. It is all the weight with only half the support.
Reference: Negrini S, Carabalona R and Sibilla P (1999). Back pain as a daily load for school children. The Lancet 354: 1974.