Backpacks are an essential school item, but if they are not worn properly, they have the potential for a lifetime of back and neck ailments.
“If backpacks are heavy or worn incorrectly, they can strain muscles and joints, and be the source of back pain,” said Dr. Paula Kramer, chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy at University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission there were more than 21,000 backpack-related injuries treated at hospital emergency rooms, doctors' offices, and clinics in the year 2003 (the last year that data was available). Injuries ranged from contusions to sprains and strains of the back and shoulder to fractures.
And just don’t think elementary school children are afflicted. The AOTA is quoting a Boston University study indicating approximately 85 percent of university students self-report discomfort and pain associated with backpack usage (http://www.aota.org/News/Announcements/Backpack08_2.aspx
“It’s important to understand that even if the backpacks are made lighter, if the weight is not distributed correctly, there can be the prospect of long-term problems,” said Kramer. To avoid these types of aliments, backpacks should weigh no more than 15 percent of the student’s body weight and be worn with both shoulder straps in order to evenly distribute the load.
There are some new backpack trends that have potential to pose less of a risk of injury for young students. Kramer recommends such styles as sling bags, which better balance the weight due to their triangular shape than the popular messenger bag style. And, of course, bags on wheels, if permitted by schools, eliminates the need for students to carry bags all together which is a weight off their shoulders.
Note: AOTA is sponsoring a National School Backpack Awareness Day on Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2008. The day will educate children, parents, school administrators, teachers, and communities about the serious health effects children face from backpacks that are too heavy or worn improperly. For more information, visit http://www.promoteot.org/AI_BackpackAwareness.html