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The Danger Lurking in Backpacks

teen with backpackBullying is supposed to be against the law. Yet, every day our schoolchildren are bullied by heavy loads carried in their backpacks. Who hasn’t wondered whether small children lugging oversized, heavy backpacks to-and-from school might be risking serious injury to their growing joints and will one day suffer serious pain and illness?

Apparently, there is real cause for concern. According to a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission study, more than 75% of students ages 8-12 suffer from increasing back pain inflicted by carrying their schoolwork and supplies in backpacks or similar totes. Some of our younger elementary school students are literally carrying one third of their body weight for prolonged periods of time and distance. That puts a lot of stress on the body during development. This stress can misalign the spine and irritate the nerves that carry energy to the body. Research shows that this can lead to pain in the spine and joints, impaired athletic and academic performance, and a lowered resistance to infections, colds, and the flu.

The heavy burdens are not just affecting those students small in stature. Student back injuries are now widespread. 96% of the pupils monitored regularly haul much too heavy a pack on their back. In 2001 alone, 7000 children went to U.S. emergency rooms for backpack-related injuries. And 60% of orthopedic doctors contacted regarding the study reported that they have treated children suffering from back pain caused by their heavy bags.

The study alluded to this startling calculation: A child carrying a 12-pound backpack and lifting it 10 times per day for the entire school year, has carried and lifted a combined load of 21,600 pounds–the equivalent of 6 mid-sized cars!

If a child has spinal misalignments and irritated nerves, carrying a backpack daily is like hammering a bent nail. It can increase the likelihood of them developing illness, injury, and scoliosis during their formative years. Even with the continued progression of electronic learning–which one would think leads to fewer books–the backpack has become a survival kit for the action-packed lives that today’s children lead during and after school hours. Parents and teachers must take an active role in limiting what we literally load onto these children. If we don’t address it now, the picture of a child carrying numerous books–which many have seen as a sign of a bright future–could foreshadow a painful outlook as well.

Fight this schoolyard bully that is carried on a student’s back.

Here are 4 key “How To’s” for you to know:

1) How to choose the right backpack:

There are a lot of choices out there. Here are some important features to look for. Select one that is NOT oversized. Bigger is not better. Pick one that is large enough to carry the essentials but doesn’t look like a turtle’s shell on the back. When the pack is being worn, you want to be able to see the rear of the person’s upper arms at the shoulder. Be sure that the straps are wide and padded to distribute weight effectively across the tops of the shoulders. The straps should be adjustable at the top and bottom for good positioning and stress reduction.

A handle at the top of the pack makes lifting easier and bright colors with reflective material make the wearer more visible to vehicular traffic, especially after sundown. A strong, ballistic nylon resists tearing and wear, and easy open zippers allow for access without straining. Some backpacks also come with a waist strap which offers added control and a tighter center of gravity when it is worn.

Avoid “newsboy” style packs and totes that have only one strap and are worn on one shoulder. Backpacks with rollers can make carrying loads much easier. However, many schools forbid them because they are a tripping hazard. There is also a tendency to overload them. This increases the likelihood of injury when getting on and off the bus or going up or down steps and curbs.

2) How to pack it:

It is recommended that a person carry a backpack that is 15% or less of their body weight. Therefore, an 80lb child should not carry a pack greater than 12lbs. Take only the essential things needed for the day. The heaviest items are packed centrally, against the side of the backpack that is against the body. Pack lighter items around them to prevent shifting. If a child must hunch over to carry their loaded backpack, it is too heavy.

3) How to lift it:

Standing directly in front of the backpack, position yourself so your nose and the backpack are between your toes. Keep your back straight and bend your body down to the backpack by bending your knees. Keeping your back straight, hold the backpack close to your body. Test the weight. If you feel safe, keep your back straight and use your legs to arise completely.

4) How to wear it correctly:

Always wear the backpack using BOTH STRAPS– one strap over each shoulder. This makes the weight more balanced. Adjust the straps so the top of the backpack is level to the base of the neck.

A great way parents can protect their child is to schedule a Back to School, Backpack Safety Checkup and Personalized Backpack Fitting. Kids think it is cool. It provides insight into how well the child’s body is performing, including their capability of resisting the stress from a heavy backpack. It is inexpensive, painless, and non-invasive. A backpack evaluation with customized fitting is included, with instruction on how to pack, lift and carry it.

Children with better spinal alignment don’t get sick and miss school as often. They have stronger natural resistance to colds, ear infections and the flu. They perform better in the classroom and compete better on the athletic field. They adapt to stress better and have an improved mood. They grow to adulthood with a stronger constitution and project more attractive posture. Remember, “As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.”

Start your child off right this school year

Schedule their Back to School, Backpack Safety Checkup and Personalized Backpack Fitting by calling (732) 254-6011 today!

By Ken Freedman, DC
Dr. Ken Freedman is the Director of Freedman Chiropractic and has been in private practice since 1979. He is a certified Backpack Safety America Instructor. At the request of Assemblyman Peter Barnes, Jr., he testified before the NJ Assembly Education Committee on backpack safety. He has also appeared on MSNBC, WABC Eyewitness News, News 4NY, and News12NJ. Dr. Freedman was voted Best Chiropractor in the Home News Tribune’s Readers’ Choice Awards in 2017 and 2020.

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