August 22, 2005
The new school year is
here. For many, this means getting a new backpack and filling
it with new supplies, new books, and all the electronic necessities
one needs to make it through the school day.
"Compared to shoulder
bags or purses, backpacks are better because the strongest muscles
in the body - the back and the abdominal muscles - support the
weight of the packs. When worn correctly, the weight is evenly
distributed across the child's body, and shoulder and neck injuries
are less common than if the child carried a briefcase or purse.
As practical as backpacks are, though, they can strain muscles
and joints and may cause back pain if they're too heavy or are
So, backpacks "can
strain muscles and joints and may cause back pain..." How
bad could that be?
"'If we don't correct
the backpack issues that are causing children back pain, the issue
will become magnified in years to come,' Wilmarth said. According
to Wilmarth, injury can occur when a child, in trying to adapt
to a heavy load, uses faulty postures such as arching the back,
bending forward, or leaning to one side. These postural adaptations
can cause improper spinal alignment, which hampers functioning
of the disks that provide shock absorption. A backpack load that
is too heavy also causes muscles and soft tissues to work harder,
leading to strain and fatigue. This leaves the neck, shoulders,
and back more vulnerable to injury."
Students need to carry
school supplies and books. As damaging as they can be, backpacks
seem to be the best way to carry what school demands with the
least amount of injury and/ or pain. So what can be done?
The American Academy
of Pediatrics recommends:
"* Choose a backpack with wide, padded shoulder straps and
a padded back.
* Pack light. Organize the backpack to use all of its compartments.
Pack heavier items closest to the center of the back. The backpack
should never weigh more than 10 to 20 percent of the student's
* Always use both shoulder straps. Slinging a backpack over one
shoulder can strain muscles. Wearing a backpack on one shoulder
may also increase curvature of the spine.
* Consider a rolling backpack. This type of backpack may be a
good choice for students who must tote a heavy load. Remember
that rolling backpacks still must be carried up stairs, and they
may be difficult to roll in snow."
Those are nice thoughts...
that may work for some people. But what about small students who
need to carry a heavy load, or those in schools without lockers,
or those days when every teachers seems to give homework that
requires bringing home the book?
"September 21 st
is National School Backpack Awareness Day. Each year over 5,000
school children go to emergency rooms because of injuries related
to over-weighted backpacks and in a recent study 60% of school
age children reported chronic back pain related to heavy backpacks.
Occupational therapists recommend that a student's backpack weighs
no more than 15% of their body weight. On September 21 st occupational
therapists around the area will be weighing in backpacks at schools
to make sure students are not carrying too much. Look out for
occupational therapists in your local school, and remember, "Pack
it Right, Wear it Light!" to prevent injury. For more information
on National Backpack Awareness Day and how occupational therapy
can help you or your family, visit the American Occupational Therapy
Association website at www.aota.org"
The American Occupational
Therapy Association (AOTA) wants to help students carry books
and supplies safely and in such a way as to reduce the instances
of injury. At the same time, "AOTA recognizes that schools
are under tremendous pressure, with limited resources, to educate
children about far more than the traditional academic subjects.
However, there are some things that teachers and school administrators
can consider that will help reduce backpack loads to the recommended
15% or less of a child's weight...."
(Recommendations can be found at the above site)
Questions of the Week:
The American Occupational Therapy Association poses the following
questions: "What can be done on a physical level, such as
providing lockers or cubicles where books, supplies, and athletic
equipment can be safely stored? ... What can be done to lessen
the backpack burden at the curricula level?"
In addition, what do
you and your peers need to know about choosing a backpack and
wearing it properly? What role should schools (teachers and administrators)
be expected to take in reducing the load? What responsibility
should students assume in order to assure that they are carrying
books and other supplies in a way that will not injure them? When
is a backpack too heavy to carry, and how do you transport your
materials if what you need is heavier than what you can safely
Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.
I look forward to reading
what you have to say.
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum