For many students, “hitting
the books” leads to academic achievement. Students who carry those books in
overloaded backpacks may be unknowingly participating in the beginning of a
Scientific research reveals an alarming danger associated
with improper childhood backpack use. This research stems from the increasing
number of reports of childhood back pain in recent decades. By the end of their
teen years, close to 60 percent of youths experience at least one low-back pain
episode. New research indicates that this may be due, at least in part, to the
improper use of backpacks on young spines. That’s why Dr. Marvin Arnsdorff and
his partner John Carroll created backpacks. “Back pain leads to more than 19
million doctor visits per year, according to the U.S. Department of Human Health
and Services,” said Dr. Arnsdorff. “What will that figure be when the
members of the “Backpack Generation” are in their thirties and forties?”
Backpack Safety America/International is the world’s
first comprehensive education program designed to help students, parents and
teachers prevent injuries related to the improper use of backpacks among
school-age children. Doctors across North America and around the world have
presented the program to more than a million students, parents, teachers and
BACKPACKS’ ATTACK ON BACKS
Watch children in any schoolyard
struggle to walk while bent sideways under the weight of an overloaded backpack
on one shoulder. You will quickly realize the potential danger of this
commonplace item. How exactly does carrying a backpack affect the spine? Common
sense tells us that a load, distributed improperly or unevenly, day after day,
indeed causes stress to a growing spinal column. The old adage “As the twig
bends, so grows the tree” comes to mind. There is a growing concern about the
improper use of backpacks and the relatively scarce amount of instructional and
preventative information available to young people. It is not the backpack’s
fault that kids have not been given the guidelines.
CHECK THE NUMBERS
The Consumer Product Safety
Commission estimates that 7,277 emergency room visits each year result from
injuries related to book bags. The CPSC also reports that backpack-related
injuries are up 330% since 1996. “That is the beginning of an epidemic, one
that will cause serious damage to a child’s health for a lifetime,” said Dr.
Do this “heavy” math: 12
pounds in an average child’s backpack times 10 lifts per day equals 120 pounds
lifted per day. This 120 pounds per day times 180 days per school year equals
21,600 pounds lifted in a year. That is nearly 11 tons, or equivalent of six
full size automobiles.
GETTING OUT OF LINE
Hauling a heavy backpack over
one shoulder every day may cause serious postural misalignments. These postural
imbalances often trigger a condition called vertebral subluxation. Vertebral
subluxations are dysfunctional areas in the spine where movement is restricted
or bones (vertebrae) are out of alignment. This disorder predisposes patients to
a number of ailments, such as neck and back pain, headaches and osteoarthritis.
In addition, a recent scientific
experiment found that carrying a backpack alters the mobility of spinal bones
and can lead to restricted movement a risk factor for pain. Yet another study
used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to examine the effect of backpacks on the
intervertebral disc of the spine, the fluid-filled “pillows” between spinal
bones. According to the report, backpacks alter the fluid content of these
discs-a risk factor for disc herniation (“slipped” disc) and osteoarthritis.
BACKPACKS ARE NOT JUST CAUSING PROBLEMS IN THE UNITED
The amount of weight carried by
children in their backpacks is an important issue that deserves serious
consideration. To quantify how much weight children are likely to carry in their
backpacks, researchers in Milan. Italy determined the weight of all the
backpacks used by sixth graders at several schools.
The average load carried daily
20.5 pounds, reaching as much as 27.5 pounds, with maximum daily load averaging
25.3 pounds. Over one-third of students carried more than 30% of their body
weight at least once during the week.
BACKPACKS MAY SPAWN FALLS
Research presented at the
American academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation’s annual meeting in
San Francisco exposes yet another potential danger of heavy backpacks: they
promote falls in students who wear them.
Specifically, students who
carried packs weighing 25% of their body weight exhibited balance problems while
performing normal activities such as climbing stairs or opening doors, which in
turn increases their risk of falls. In contrast, students who carried packs
weighing 15% of their body weight maintained their balance moderately well.
Those carrying 5% of their body weight were most effective at maintaining
balance, compared with their peers who carried more weight.
ROLLER BAGS ARE NOT CURE-ALLS
An empty roller bag can weigh up
to 80% more than an empty backpack. Factor in that there is a tendency to add
more things to a roller bag, it can end up weighing 50 pounds or more. At some
point during the day, a child needs to lift that bag and proper guidelines still
should be followed.
These disturbing trends clearly
show the importance of a comprehensive educational program designed to give
students, parents and teachers guidelines necessary to prevent future spinal
conditions due to improperly worn backpacks.
BACKPACK SAFETY TIPS
Make sure the backpack is sturdy and appropriately sized. Some
manufacturers offer special child-sized versions for children ages 5-10. These
packs weigh less than a pound and have shorter back lengths and widths so they
do not slip around on the back.
Consider more than looks when choosing a backpack. An ill-fitting
pack can cause back pain, muscle strain or nerve impingement. You want to have
padded shoulder straps to avoid pressure on the nerves around the armpits. Some
backpacks have waist straps designed to stabilize the load. These should be used
The proper maximum weight for loaded backpacks should not exceed
15% of the child’s body weight. For example, an 80-pound child should not
carry more than 12 pounds in a pack. If the pack forces the carrier to bend
forward, it is overloaded.
In loading, it is obvious that excessive backpack weight can cause
problems. Prioritizing the pack’s content is very important. Avoid loading
unnecessary items. It is important to balance the weight of the contents or the
body shifts into unnatural postures to compensate.
Often ignored is the act of lifting and positioning the pack.
Lifting 20 pounds improperly can cause damage. Follow these simple steps:
backpack before you lift it
bend at the
hands, check the weight of the pack
your legs, not your back
one shoulder strap on at a time
the pack onto one shoulder
Use both shoulder straps. Make them snug but not too
tight. Carrying the backpack on one shoulder, while fashionable, can cause
long-term neck, shoulder, back and postural problems. Use the stabilizing
waist strap around the waist.
PICK THE RIGHT
backpack with padding along the entire back. A lumbar (low back) support also
helps. An “S” shape, padded shoulder strap works well. Narrow straps dig
into shoulder muscles causing numbness/tingling in the hands, too wide a strap
irritates neck muscles. A waist strap keeps the weight snug against the back and
a chest strap keeps the shoulder straps properly positioned. Look for extra
outer pockets. Also consider the empty weight of the backpack. A canvas bag is
lighter than leather.
heavy, flat objects against the back, evenly centered left and right. Then add
the smaller, lighter things like jacket and shoes, further from your spine. Use
the pockets for small objects so that they don’t press against your back
PUT IT ON,
CARRY IT, AND TAKE IT OFF CAREFULLY
backpack with bent knees and a straight back, then place onto one shoulder, then
the other. Have the load resting at the bottom of your spine. Bend forward,
adjust waist strap to fit snuggly around the top of your pelvis. Now pull the
shoulder straps to comfort. Straighten up and adjust the chest strap last.
use of backpacks has become the leading cause of repetitive stress syndrome seen
in children. Neck or low back pain, sore muscles, tingling in the hands, awkward
gait or fatigue may all be symptoms of a stressed spine. To prevent long term
spinal damage studies recommend that a backpack weigh no more than 10-15% of the
child’s body weight.
Body Weight (pds)
Max Backpack Weight (pds)
Body Weight (pds)
Max Backpack Weight (pds)