September 17th is National School Backpack Awareness Day, a health holiday dedicated to making sure students start the new school year with the health of their spines in mind.
For students trying to get from one class to another in under five minutes, the backpack is a saving grace. It allows an individual to carry books for multiple subjects to avoid in-between class locker visits, especially when classes are located on opposite sides of the school. But for some kids, the backpack ends up carrying much more than it should, and everyday wear leads to potential back issues.
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According to research published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, muscle, skeletal and nerve damage are very real concerns for children who carry heavy backpacks. The issue was first identified in soldiers who carry excessively heavy packs in the military.
Common complaints included discomfort or pain in the shoulders as well as numbness in the fingers. This reduced soldiers’ ability to operate heavy machinery as well as their trigger response time when firing a weapon.
Once experts realized the heavy packs were to blame for causing irritation that eventually led to diminished nerve capacity and limited muscle ability to respond to the brain’s signals, the medical community turned their attention to children who also notoriously carried heavy backpacks.
Similar issues were noted among those in school; back pain, neck pain, numbness, and loss of sensation in the arms and fingers were common complaints in students. Unlike soldiers, however, the symptoms were underreported; children did not have fine motor skill actions they were required to perform that might make them aware of potential nerve damage.
A report from the New York Times indicates the risk of heavy backpacks is higher for children, and the younger they are the more parents should be concerned. Heavy backpacks can cause permanent curvature of the spine, rounded shoulders and balance issues. With the homework load growing and growing, children must carried their heaviest burdens home.
Many children report homework in every subject, and if they have no time to get the work done during school hours, those books needed must go home with them. Now, instead of just carrying a handful of books from class to class, they are carrying their entire locker’s worth.
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So what can be done to help decrease the backpack load?
- It’s recommended that a loaded backpack should never weigh more than 10 percent of the student’s total body weight
- If the backpack is too heavy on a regular basis, consider using a book bag on wheels if your childs school allows it.
- The height of the backpack should extend from approximately two inches below the shoulder blades to waist level or slightly above the waist.
- It’s recommended that individuals always wear the backpack on both shoulders so the weight is evenly distributed.
- Load heaviest items closest to the childs back (the back of the pack)and arrange books and materials so they wont slide around in the backpack.
- Check what your child carries to school and brings home. Make sure the items are necessary for the days activities.