Heavy backpacks may cause pain

As the new school year approaches, the shopping list grows along with the worries about backpack safety. Backpacks are a necessity for children to carry their school supplies.

From mathematics to geography, many subject areas are covered which equals lots of books. Although cracking down on the books is usually considered a good thing, lugging around heavy books can lead to health problems.

“A properly fitted backpack distributes the weight of the books among the large muscles of the back. The danger of a poorly fitted backpack is loading the back muscles and joints incorrectly lead to muscle fatigue and joint injury of the back, neck and shoulders,” said Dr. Jemal Khan, a local chiropractor.

On a more positive note, he said, “There are many misconceptions regarding backpacks. Happily, while backpacks may lead to back pain, they will not lead to curvature or scoliosis.”

Dr. Khan added, “Not a week goes by that I don’t get someone in the office who tells me they have a curve in their spine due to years of carrying a pack on one shoulder … True, curves of the spine often first show-up during the school years, but that does not mean the school activities cause spine curvature.”

What to look for?

Choosing the right backpack may be a bit daunting as there an array of different shapes sizes and colours and styles on the market. “Parents out shopping should choose backpacks that are lightweight, have a waist strap, padding, and two wide shoulder straps. Of course, the best option would be a rolling pack, but I understand the schools do not appreciate their hallways being clogged with the rolling option,” Dr. Khan said.

Safety tips

Dr. Khan gives some advice on backpack safety. He advises that like any piece of safety equipment, backpacks will only work effectively when used correctly.

“The cool factor goes way down, but both shoulder straps must be used.” He also warns that the use of only one shoulder strap can lead to muscle spasm and strain in the upper back and neck.

Straps should be tightened, along with the waist strap, so that the backpack is secured.

“A pack that takes on its own pendulum rhythm while the child is walking will lead to back muscle fatigue and injury,” Dr. Khan said.

“A general rule of thumb is no more than 10 per cent of the child’s weight. A pack heavier than that will lead to the child adopting a Quasimodo-like forward hunch in an attempt to carry the weight of the pack on the back rather than handing from their shoulders.” He added, “The pack should not hang more than a hands breath below the waist, lower than that leads again to the child leaning forward to offset the weight of the pack.”

Dr. Khan thinks a little forethought when packing the pack can go a long way. “The heavy items should be on the bottom of the pack and no sharp items where they can poke into tender little backs. Try to create a smooth comfortable surface for the back,” he said.

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