Sep 27 2011

Students dealing with backpack backlash

Published by at 9:30 am under Massage Therapists

The following story deals with a subject that every parent with a school aged child is aware of. Just as chiropractors are positioning themselves to help, so can massage therapists. There is a need for this sort of education and assistance in every community in the US. Perhaps you can team with a local chiropractor to work on this project.

Students dealing with backpack backlash
By: Jackie Tilton

Staff Writer

Chiropractors crack down on the injuries caused by children’s overloaded book bags

Backpacks have evolved into more than a sporty way to tote texts to and from school.

They are now an essential accessory for nearly every student.

But several studies are pointing to backpacks as a major contributor to injuries among youth in America.

An estimated 40 million teenagers carry a backpack to school each day, as do countless young children who march into school hauling loads that look almost as big as they are.

“Today’s heavy loads are causing injuries that last a lifetime,” the Congress of State Chiropractic Associations warns on its Web site.

While carrying a backpack to school every morning may seem harmless enough, medical professionals argue there is proof it can cause painful back and neck problems and injuries for students who don’t pack or carry their backpacks properly. It can also lead to long-term medical problems.

More and more doctors are seeing children for back pain and injuries, according to the Congress of State Chiropractic Associations.

Medical professionals advise individuals carry no more than 10 to 15 percent of their body weight on their backs. A child weighing 50 pounds, for example, should carry no more than 7.5 pounds on his or her back.

But studies have found many children carry up to 40 pounds on their backs, which could be causing long-term spinal problems.

Painesville resident Katie Major has brought her children, 7-year-old Avery and 6-year-old Zach, for regular spinal adjustments since they were babies.

Avery was first brought to Dr. Brian J. Morris at Painesville Family Chiropractic for pain in her middle back and neck, but continues visits as a preventative measure.

Now quite familiar with the routine, Avery hops atop the rocking horse massage bench as Morris uses an activator on her neck. The device, equipped with a spring, is often used on smaller patients’ necks to realign their vertebrae.

Major worries her tiny, 50-pound daughter toting a heavy blue quilted backpack for at least an hour each day will create long-term back problems.

Although Major tries to ensure her daughter gets on the bus for St. Mary School in Painesville with her backpack properly strapped over both shoulders, Avery still complains of back pain.

“When she gets off the bus, she hands (the backpack) to me right away and says it’s too heavy,” Major said.

With increasing demands put on students to achieve, so do the amounts of books they must take home.

“Our teachers put lots of books in there for us to study,” Avery said.

Her bag also is often filled with gym clothes and shoes, adding even more weight.

Morris usually has young patients bring in their backpacks and weighs the bags to see how much the children typically lug around.

During Avery’s last visit, she complained of lower back pain after falling on the stairs at her house. But after a visit with Morris, she was almost feeling like new again.

“When I get home from here, it feels better,” Avery said.

Her usual catch phrase after an adjustment is, “The power’s on.”

Chiropractor Dr. Thomas Campana of Eastlake notes children already are susceptible to vertebral subluxation, or spinal misalignment, even before they strap on their first backpack. He said spinal trauma is common from the delivery infants endure and from tumbles they take while learning to crawl, walk and ride a bike.

With each fall, scar tissue forms, taking more of a toll on a child’s developing body.

“They have enough accidents that they don’t need to hurt their developing spine on purpose by carrying overloaded backpacks incorrectly,” Campana said. “Each injury becomes a cumulative trauma.”

Even a properly carried backpack is not ideal, he said. Backpacks pull the arms back and flatten out the middle back, changing the curve in the upper and lower spine.

About 30 percent of the patients Morris treats are younger than age 18, and he has seen a rise in the number of younger children as patients during the last five years.

Morris said many people don’t realize spinal misalignment can be a factor in several other problems, such as sinus infections or asthma, which is why keeping a child’s back in good form is important for more than just posture.

A 1999 American Academy of Orthopedics survey of more than 100 physicians found that 71 percent felt backpacks are a clinical problem for children, and 58 percent stated they have seen patients complaining of back or shoulder pain related to backpacks.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a warning in 1997 concerning injuries related to backpacks.

However, the study also suggests spinal misalignment from carrying the excess weight is responsible for a minority of the injuries.

There were 7,277 emergency room visits from injuries related to book bags since 1996.

The CPSC data revealed the most common injuries involving backpacks are from tripping over them or being hit with them.

Of all reported backpack injuries to children, 13 percent were associated with wearing a backpack.

Although many children begin carrying backpacks when they enter kindergarten, Morris said severe spinal injuries often go unnoticed until children are older.

Chiropractors believe older students (12 to 18 years) magnify the back injury problem by carrying their backpacks with one strap over one shoulder, directing the weight to one side of the body.

There is evidence that this encourages scoliosis and other permanent physical problems.

The Association of Backpack Use and Back Pain in Adolescents found the prevalence of nonspecific back pain increases dramatically during adolescence, from less than 10 percent in pre-teenage years to up to 50 percent in 15- to 16-year-olds.

One alternative is a roller bag that can be pulled on wheels with a handle. However, many schools, such as St. Mary’s, have banned roller bags because of space constraints or damage they cause to floors.

Morris said he has also encouraged schools to have teachers coordinate assignments so students are not required to take as many textbooks home at once.

The concern about damage caused by backpacks also hits home with school nurses.

Brenda Swanson, West Geauga School District’s nurse for elementary students, said although she does not see many acute cases of back problems due to backpacks, she often fields complaints from parents who feel children are being asked to carry too many books to and from school.

“They’re chronically complaining to their parents that their shoulders hurt or their back hurts,” Swanson said. “I do agree they’re carrying too much weight on them.”

Although West Geauga allows students to use backpacks on rollers, Swanson said other children often trip over the bags and children still often have to lift the roller bags onto the bus, up school steps or out of the snow.

Posted by Ralph at 03:51 PM
© 2009 Institute for Integrative HealthCare Studies. This work is reproduced with the permission of the Institute.

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