With children returning to school in the next couple of weeks, helping them make the right start to the year is critical. It can help them avoid all the negative effects that go hand in hand with pain; loss fitness, decreased confidence and social withdrawal.
And with the incidence of back pain in adolescence approaching that of adults1, the muscle and bone problems associated with backpack use have become an increasing concern with school children2.
A study by Simmons College (Boston) professor Dr. Shelly Goodgold, has found that more than half of children in the study regularly carried more than the recommended 15 % of their body weight in their school pack packs.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimated that more than 3,300 children aged 5-14 years, were treated in emergency rooms for injuries related to backpacks in 1998; these numbers do not include students who went to their family doctor or health professional.
A study by Auburn University researchers (Anniston, Alabama, Pascoe et al.) stated that the most common symptom reported from backpack use is “rucksack palsy”. This condition results when pressure put on the nerve as it passes into the shoulder causes numbness in the hands, muscle wasting and in extreme cases nerve damage (Journal Ergonomics Vol. 40 Pg. 6 1997).
58% of orthopaedic health professionals polled in the USA reported treating children with back pain attributable to carrying backpacks. So if your child is complaining of neck, back, shoulder or arm pain, the cause might be an ill-fitting backpack. And despite the advent of tablets, notebooks and smart phones, it seems that if anything, school bags have become heavier, not lighter.
Children are especially at risk of injury from backpacks as carrying too much weight in a backpack or an improper fit, can put undue strain in young muscles and bones that have not full developed.Here’s what can happen. As an overloaded backpack pulls the body backwards, your child may try to re-balance the body by bending forwards at the waist.
How much is too much?
Recent university studies indicate that if a backpack weighs more than 15% of a person’s body weight, it causes adverse effects on the neck as well as upper, middle and lower back which over time will lead to pain and physical problems. In other words, it is recommended that the weight of the backpack should be no more than 15% of a person’s body weight.3 For a 50 kilogram child, that’s 7.5 kilograms.
Your child’s still developing muscle and bone systems can handle 15% without much chance of injury or permanent structural change. This weight can be carried without major postural changes occurring.
However an overloaded or incorrectly fitted backpack can cause the wearer to lean forward in an effort to compensate for the additional weight on their back.
Why you should be concerned
- There are two main reasons to be concerned about the weight of your child’s backpack.
- Holding this abnormal posture for long periods of time, can lead to a weakening of the neck, mid-back, low back and abdominal muscles.
As these muscles are developing, the risk is that they develop abnormally, setting up an abnormal posture for life. The top straps of the backpack which can compress the sensitive nerves and blood vessels as they pass from the neck through the shoulder area and into the arm.
This compression can lead to pain, tingling, numbness and even weakness in the arms and is called “rucksack palsy”.
What you can do
There are 3 things that you can do to ensure that your child is not at risk of injury from an unsafe back pack.
1. Select the correct backpack
2. Load the backpack properly
3. Adjust and wear the backpack correctly
Selecting a Backpack
1. The backpack should be no wider than the torso and not much longer than shoulder to hip.
2. Well-padded straps will distribute the load over a greater area, protecting the sensitive nerves and blood vessels as they pass beneath.
Some bag straps have adjustable air bladders and wait straps for a true custom fit.
Loading a Backpack
The guiding rule is that your child’s backpack should not weigh more than 15% of their body weight. Pack only what is needed for that day and stack the heaviest items closest to the back.
Wearing a Backpack
1. Adjust the straps for a snug fit.
2. Fit the backpack to the upper part of the back as a loose, low bag is more likely to compress the nerves and blood vessels of the neck and arm as well as strain the middle and lower back.
3. Never wear a backpack slung over one shoulder; not only can it compress nerves and blood vessels, but can also cause leaning to one side which may lead to twisting of the spine (scoliosis).
How to detect if there is a problem
Research has indicated that the use of computer photography is a valid and effect tool in detecting adverse postural changes that may occur with the wearing of a backpack.3
Bodywise Health has now acquired this technology so that you can identify quickly and easily if you or your child has a postural problem.
Once identified, simple techniques, exercises and strategies can then be implemented to correct joint stiffness, muscle imbalances and faulty postures and movement habits so that physical and health related postural problems can be avoided.
Prevention as the best cure
As with all health problems, the best cure is prevention or at least correction of a problem at the earliest possible instance.Getting a quick posture and / or backpack fitting check is an ideal way to stop problems before they start.
If you are concerned about your child’s posture; if you do worry about the weight of their backpack and you would like to correct the stresses on their body so that they don’t cause physical problems for the rest of their lives, the physiotherapists at Bodywise Health have the technology, knowledge, experience and skill to be able enable your child not only to make a great start to the year, but to enjoy life long better posture, better health and greater happiness.
If you would like further information or an appointment, please call 1 300 Bodywise (263 994).
Wishing you and your family the best of health,
P.S. For the next 2 weeks, Bodywise Health is offering FREE Posture and Backpack checks to you or your children. To get you FREE Posture and Backpack check, just mention this blog at the time of booking your appointment.
1. Skagg, D, Early S, D’Ambra P et al. (2006) Journal of Orthopaedics: 26: 3: 358-363.
2. Troussier B et al. (1994): Back pain in school children: A study among 1178 pupils. Scandinavian Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine 26: 143-145
3. Chansirinukor W. et al. (2001): Effects of backpacks on students: Measurement of cervical and shoulder posture. Australian Journal of Physiotherapy 47: 110-116.
4. Siambanes D et al. (2004): Influence of School Back Packs on Adolescent Back Pain. Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics 24:2:211-217.