As fall approaches and children are getting ready to go back to school, Dr. Michael R. Marks offers the following tips on backpacks:
Most injuries that occur are muscular in nature. They occur mostly in the upper back, but to some extent in the lower back. It is rare for children and adolescents to injure a disk carrying their backpack.
Most backpack-related injuries are due to improper wearing and packing of the pack. Shoulder soreness comes from wearing the pack only on one shoulder, or using a pack with straps that are too thin. A/C joint problems come from similar problems with the straps going across the joint with direct force. Wearing the pack too low or wearing a pack that is too large (sits too low on the body) can cause bruising to the lower buttocks and upper thighs.
There is no significant correlation between age/gender with the exception that the youngest children seem to be wearing packs that are truly too big for them. An elementary school child should not be wearing a pack that was designed for a high school student.
Parents have a great deal of concern because of the large number of books that the children cart back and forth to school. Backpacks should be just that -- a method to transport books. They shouldn't be survival kits. There is no reason a child should be carrying around their books all day long through school or have unnecessary items in the pack. They should be left in their locker.
Backpacks have no correlation with creating or worsening scoliosis (a wives' tale). Many companies have created backpacks on wheels. These seem to have created even more problems than traditional backpacks. They are even heavier to lift and in crowded hallways there is no room for a backpack on wheels. Some children have tripped over them while running through the hallways. Additionally, it puts more stress on the low back to have your body slightly turned and dragging something behind you. Ask any traveler through airports.
The best way to prevent injuries is to "Pack it right, wear it right." Put the heaviest and largest books closest to your back. Have well-padded straps pulled tightly so the packs sit between your shoulder blades and use the belt strap to prevent the pack from bouncing back and forth. The Sherpas in the Himalayas don't seem to have a problem carrying heavy loads. It isn't suggested that children carry these heavy packs all day long, but they certainly can transport their needs to and from school. The schools must give the kids time to use their lockers.
If your child is having back pain that you think is related to their backpack, make an appointment to see your pediatrician or an orthopaedist who understands back injuries. Bring the backpack with you and let the physician show the proper method of wearing the backpack.