Back Pack Safety

As the new 2004 school year approaches, many parents and their children have already begun shopping for school supplies and essentials. One necessity will be a backpack. Choosing a sturdy backpack and knowing the correct ergonomics may help prevent long term back pain for your child.

As millions of children set out every morning to school, many of them overstuff their packs with heavy books, calculators, clothing, lunch and shoes. Some carry their packs on one shoulder intermittently throughout the day. The long-term result: chronic back and neck pain.

A US safety commission estimated that approx. 6,512 emergency room visits each year are due to book bag related injuries.

Our spine can be viewed as the structural foundation of our body. When in proper balance, our spine, joints, discs and muscles are built to absorb certain amounts of shock and load. When an excessive amount of load is placed on a developing spine, the joints, discs and muscles may be overly stretched and sprained, therefore, directly injuring the spine. Additionally, some studies show that backpacks can alter the fluid contents in the spinal disc, therefore, placing the student at a greater risk for herniated disc and osteoarthritis later in life.

Some causes for backpack pain include the quality of the backpack, incorrect packing, lifting and carrying of the pack. The trend for most teens is to carry a heavy backpack on one shoulder. This places tremendous postural stress on the spine and muscles in the mid to low back, as well as muscle and nerve strain. These postural imbalances can predispose individuals to spinal and joint misalignments (areas of the spine/joints where movement is reduced or restricted; bones are out of their normal alignment).

The following are some tips on Back Pack Ergonomics:

CHOOSING A BACKPACK

Choose a sturdy canvas or nylon light weight pack (not leather)
Make sure the pack has many compartments/pockets to evenly distribute the weight
Choose a pack with 2 wide padded shoulder straps which are adjustable
Choose a pack which has waist/hip straps to help stabilize the load

HOW TO LOAD YOUR PACK

The total weight of the filled pack should not exceed 15% of your childs body weight (i.e. An 80 lbs child should not carry more than 12lbs in their backpack
Pack only the items that are necessary for that day
Evenly distribute the weight amongst the individual compartments/pockets
Place the heaviest items close to your childs back (close to center of gravity)
Place bulky or pointy items furthest away from the back or spine

HOW TO WEAR THE PACK

Repetitive improper lifting of a 10-20lbs backpack can cause muscular and spinal strain (damage)
Place the backpack on a table and face the pack
With both hands, check the weight of the pack
Bend both knees
Lift with both legs and arms, not your back
Carefully, slip on one shoulder strap at time
Adjust shoulder straps to comfort and use the waist/hip strap to stabilize the load

THE CORRECT WAY OF CARRYING THE BACKPACK

Wear the pack on two shoulders
Use padded shoulder straps
Adjust straps to fit comfortably and not too loose, otherwise the pack will dangle
Use the waist/hip strap
The bottom of the pack should sit 2 inches above the waist

ADDITIONAL TIPS

Only place what is necessary for that day in the backpack
Try and put heavy book/binders in your locker and pick up between classes as needed
Most kids with spend approx. 18-22 years in the academic setting carrying backpacks. Consider starting some abdominal strengthening exercises to prevent present and future spinal pain
Watch your child as they walk out the front door. If they are hunched too forward or are leaning too far back, this indicates that the pack is too heavy
Consider a rolling pack for your child
Keep in mind that Doctors of Chiropractic are experts in spinal and joint biomechanics. Chiropractors offer spinal checkups, assessments and treatments for children and teens.