Monday, August 16, 2010

Back to School Back Trouble

Are you sending your child off to the first day of school with a brand-new backpack slung over his or her shoulder? If you’re like most parents, a new backpack was on your child’s back-to-school shopping list. You may want to think twice before putting your youngster on the bus with this schoolyard “staple.” New research reveals an alarming danger associated with childhood backpack use.

Think Carrying a Backpack is “No Big Deal?” Think Again!

Twelve pounds in an average child’s backpack X 10 lifts per day = 120 pounds Per day X 180 school days per year = 21,600 pounds lifted in one school year (That’s nearly 11 tons of weight; the equivalent of six mid-sized automobiles!).

This research stems from the increasing number of reports of childhood back pain in recent decades. By the end of their teen years, more than 50% of youths experience at least one low-back pain episode (Spine 1998; 23:228-34). And new research indicates that this increase may be due, at least in part, to the improper use of backpacks. But you don’t need to be a scientist to understand the effect of backpacks on young spines; watch children in any schoolyard struggle to walk while bent sideways under the weight of an overloaded backpack on one shoulder - you’ll quickly realize the potential danger of this commonplace item.

Backpacks Attack on Backs

How exactly does carrying a backpack affect the spine? “Common sense tells us that a heavy load, distributed improperly or unevenly, day after day, is indeed going to cause stress to a growing spinal column,” explains Dr. Marvin T. Arnsdorff, chiropractor and co-founder of the Backpack Safety America school education program. “The old adage ‘as the twig is bent, so grows the tree’ comes to mind. We are seeing a growing concern about the improper use of backpacks and the relatively scarce amount of instructional and preventive information available to young people.”

The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that 4,928 emergency room visits each year result from injuries related to book bags and back carriers. And schlepping around a backpack can cause not only acute injury, but also long-term damage.

Six Steps to Preventing Backpack-Related Injuries

With regular chiropractic checkups and a few simple preventive measures, you can keep your child injury free. Following are five winning tips from experts at the Backpack Safety America program.

1) Ensure that your child’s backpack is sturdy and appropriately sized. some manufacturers offer special child-sized versions for children ages five to ten. These packs weigh less than a pound and have shorter back lengths and widths to prevent slippage.

2) Consider more than looks when choosing a backpack. An ill-fitting pack can cause back pain, muscle strain or nerve impingement. To help distribute the load, look for packs with padded shoulder straps and waist straps.

3) Ensure that the weight of your child’s pack does not exceed 15% of his or her body weight.

4) Avoid overloading by prioritizing the items your child carries and elimination unnecessary contents.

5) Teach your youngster to pack his or her backpack by evenly distributing the contents throughout the pack.

6) Insist that your child never carry a backpack on one shoulder. Both shoulder straps - as well as the waist strap - should be used at all times.

(Courtesy of Backpack Safety America)

Hauling a heavy backpack over one shoulder every day may provoke serious postural misalignments. And, 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 myriad 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, leading to restricted movement - a risk factor for back pain (Surg Radiol Anat 1999; 21:109-13). Another study used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to examine the effect of backpacks on the intervertebral discs of the spine, the fluid-filled “pillows” between spinal bones. According the the article, backpacks alter the fluid content of these discs, a risk factor for disc herniation (“slipped” disc) and osteoarthritis (Spine 1999; 15;24:1015-22).

Proper Backpack Lifting Technique

Lifting technique is an essential, yet often-overlooked, aspect of backpack safety. Repeated improper lifting of a backpack - even a lightweight one - can wreak havoc on your child’s spine. Here’s the correct way to lift a pack:

1-Face the backpack before you lift it.

2-Bend at the knees.

3-Using both hands, check the weight of the pack.

4-Lift with your legs, not with your back.

5-Carefully slip on one shoulder strap at a time; never sling the pack onto one shoulder. (Courtesy of Backpack Safety America)

A Cure for the Backpack Blues

Fortunately, there is a solution to this childhood health-care crisis: chiropractic care. Chiropractors are experts in spinal biomechanics and backpack safety techniques. As prevention specialist, chiropractors work to educate the community about the proper use of backpacks. In addition, doctors of chiropractic offer spinal checkups for youngsters. These checkups include a through postural assessment, evaluation for vertebral subluxations, and specific recommendations for injury prevention If you’re a parent, don’t ignore this potential threat to your child’s health. Schedule a chiropractic evaluation for your youngster today. •

Watching Your Back,

Dr. Heather Giesen

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