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BACK TO SCHOOL SAFETY: BACKPACKS

In recent years, the use of backpacks has become increasingly common among students of all ages. However, along with the increase in backpack usage there has been a corresponding increase in backpack-related back injuries.

In fact, the Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that backpack-related back injuries result in more than 14,000 hospital visits a year, and 7,000 of those visits are trips to the emergency room. This should come as no surprise, as many students are now transporting computers or other electronic devices in their backpacks as well as textbooks. With the average laptop weighs 5 pounds and the average textbook 3.5 pounds, students could potentially be carrying up to 30 extra pounds of dead weight.  On a 100 pound child, that equates to 30 percent of their body weight – well over the American Chiropractic Association’s recommendation of a 10 percent maximum. Peer pressure can also contribute to backpack problems, as many style-conscious students choose to use only one shoulder strap or position the pack inordinately low on their back.

“Heavy, over-filled backpacks are certainly a concern,” says nationally recognized spinal expert Dr. Dermot More-O’Ferrall, of Advanced Pain Management. “However, packs that incorrectly displace their weight also put students at increased risk for musculoskeletal injuries.”

These five simple tips from Advanced Pain Management physicians can keep students (and their parents) from unnecessary pain and possible injury due to improperly toting or lifting a school bag.

1. Find the right bag: Backpacks are made for people of different sizes. It’s important that the one your scholar carries fits them properly. The backpack should have padded bands to go over the shoulders that are preferably wider than two inches. It also shouldn’t be any wider than the carrier’s body.

2. Adjust the straps: Once you have a backpack, make sure that the adjustable straps are set up properly. The top of the pack should be just an inch or two below the base of the neck, with the bottom of the pack just above the waistline. This ensures that most of the weight is balanced along the strong and stable parts of your shoulders and back. A backpack that sags too low causes extra strain on the back.

3. Pack properly: Distribute the objects in the pack from heaviest closest to the body and lightest away from the body. This provides less strain on the shoulders and back. Be sure to not pack items that aren’t necessary, as the bag should be less than 15 percent of the weight of the person carrying it.

4. Two is better than one: Wear both straps. Many children like to sling their backpack over one shoulder, but the extra weight along one side of the body can lead to painful shoulder, back and hip issues over time due to developing a curved spine. Backpacks that have a chest or waist strap can help allocate the weight even more evenly for an even less harmful haul.

5. Lift with your knees: When loaded with those heavy math, science and history books, backpacks can get heavy to lift with just one arm. Students should make sure to pick up a schoolbag with both hands and lift with their knees before putting it on their back. Hunching over and picking up 15 to 20 pounds of dead weight can quickly cause back pain.

For more back-to-school tips visit Advanced Pain Management’s website at www.apmhealth.com.