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Back pain is becoming a common health problem in children and carrying heavy backpacks increases the risk many fold. To prevent the risk of chronic back pain, children must be taught not to get backpacks heavy and also shown the correct way of carrying them.
Any persistent back pain complained by children, even without lifting anything heavy, should be evaluated by medical professional, as it could be due to some serious health issue with muscles or vertebrae in the back or internal organs.
Health risks in carrying heavy backpacks
Initially the back pain due to strain of back muscles could be of short duration, which can be resolved with rest and reduced activity. Apart from straining the muscles of the back, neck and shoulder, carrying heavy backpacks prevents proper development of still-forming bones and muscles in children.
Carrying heavy weight can put unnatural heavy stress on the young vertebral column and rib cage. Prevent distortion of the natural curve of the middle and lower back as otherwise it can lead to chronic pain and scoliosis.
There are conflicting views by the medical community to prevent the possibility of development of back pain in children due to carrying heavy backpacks. Our common sense should prevail and we have to prevent the risk and pain involved in their carrying disproportionate amounts of heavy weight.
What experts say about heavy backpacks.
American Chiropractic Association (ACA), an association of health care professionals concerned to diagnosis treat and prevent of disorders of the neuromusculoskeletal system, has offered certain tips and advice on the use of heavy backpacks by children at http://www.acatoday.org/content_css.cfm?CID=65.
Skaggs DL el al, (of Children’s Orthopaedic Center, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, and the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90027, USA), in a population-based study of a sample of 1540 school-goers aged 11-14 years, have arrived at certain findings.
They found that back pain is associated with use of a heavy backpack and that it is more prevalent in younger children and in girls. Their carrying heavy weights seemed to be directly proportional to the likelihood of back pain.
Paloma Rodríguez-Oviedo et al in their short research report (2011) concluded that carrying heavy backpacks increases the risk of back pain and possibly the risk of back pathology.
The prevalence of school children carrying heavy backpacks is extremely high. Educational activities should be implemented in this age group to prevent them from carrying heavy weights.
Tips to prevent back pain in children from heavy backpacks.
- Backpack must not be heavy and the overall weight of the backpacks must not exceed the 10% of the body weight of the children.
- Heavy backpacks make the children to bend forward to support the weight on their back instead of shoulders.
- Weight must be evenly distributed on both the shoulders by proper strapping.
- Multiple dividers help in keeping the books in place prevent abrupt shifts disturbing the balance.
- Placing heavy books closer to the back distributes the weight to shoulders.
- A padded back is more comfortable and prevents poking by notebook edges, pens, pencils and rulers.
- The straps must be adjustable, padded, wide and placed apart to prevent pinching or squeezing of the shoulder or neck region.
- Tight and narrow straps dig into shoulders and neck, pinch nerves and prevent proper blood circulation.
- Both the shoulder straps should be used to prevent disproportionate shift of heavy weight to one side.
- Carrying the bag by hand or using one shoulder strap can lead to posture problems and scoliosis.
- Children must be encouraged to wear waist belt, as it helps in even distribution of weight.
- The correct size of the bag is of importance to prevent stuffing and making it heavy.
- Low hanging backpack makes the user to lean forward shifting the weight to back.
- It should be strapped so that it does not hang more than 3-4 inches below the waistline.
Although roller packs are comfortable, they become a bother while lugging them on stairs and also can become a tripping hazard to other students. Introduction of e-textbooks and educational software may reduce the burden and prevent back pain in children by not requiring to carry heavy backpacks.
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1. American Chiropractic Association (ACA) topic on how to prevent carrying heavy weight by schoolgoers. (http://www.acatoday.org/content_css.cfm?CID=65).
2. Skaggs DL, Early SD, D’Ambra P, Tolo VT, Kay RM. Back pain and backpacks in school children. J Pediatr Orthop. 2006 May-Jun;26(3):358-63. PMID:16670549.
3. Paloma Rodríguez-Oviedo1, Alberto Ruano-Ravina2,3, Mónica Pérez-Ríos2, Francisco Blanco García4, Dorotea Gómez-Fernández1, Anselmo Fernández-Alonso1, Isabel Carreira-Núñez1, Pilar García-Pacios1, Javier Turiso5. Short research report. School children’s backpacks, back pain and back pathologies. Arch Dis Child doi:10.1136/archdischild-2011-301253.
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