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  • Dr. Thomas Burge

Backpack Safety for Children

Backpack safety many not seem to be a top concern for parents as they rush around getting ready for school to start. As carrying backpacks filled with supplies and books are a typical sight in the fall for school age children as they head back to the classroom. But, did you know there is growing concern that this seemingly harmless activity is having a devastating impact on their small bodies. The use of backpacks has risen dramatically over the past ten years in children. Some studies have shown backpack usage to be greater than 90% among school-aged children ages 8-17. These numbers were expected to rise (and they have) as schools around the country, for security reasons, remove or restrict access to lockers, forcing students to rely more heavily on backpacks to carry books and personal belongings.


As a result, many complaints of back, shoulder, and neck pain have increased because of the lack of backpack safety. Leaving chiropractors seeing younger and younger patients complaining of back and shoulder pain.


Properly wearing a backpack allows the back and stomach muscles to support the backpack's weight. Yet, when the bag is overloaded, lifted incorrectly, or carried over one shoulder, the soft tissues in the back become strained. Daily repetition of these types of actions promotes incorrect posture by damaging the spinal column and creating muscular imbalance.


Parents need to be aware that back complaints in young children should be taken seriously. A recent research study published in the "Archives of Disease and Childhood" 2003 reports. Every year more than 13,000 backpack related office or emergency room visits in the United States alone occurred with school age children. In the past four years there have been more than twenty documented studies showing that improperly worn backpacks may cause long term damage to a growing spine.


Health complaints children may express include headaches, neck and shoulder pain, and numbness into the arms and hands. Studies continue to show a direct connection to these problems being associated to an overloaded and ill-fitted backpack. The body is trying to compensate for the change caused by the backpack’s added weight. The spine in particular, can be affected as it bends and twists to reposition this added backpack weight. When this happens pain usually results.


Other problems associated with backpack overloading are conditions called “Cervicobrachial syndrome and or Thoracic Outlet Syndrome”. A heavily loaded backpack causes the shoulder straps to compress delicate nerves, arteries and veins passing underneath the neck-shoulder muscles. This can lead to numbness and tingling in the arms.


Due to the dramatic increase in chiropractic visits by young children the chiropractic profession is promoting backpack safety awareness to parents in order to educate them of the significance of this problem.


Watch for next weeks post on tips for Backpack safety.