Backpacks Can Be A Pain

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Children going to school this fall may have a load on their shoulders that could damage their backs.

Backpacks are likely the most popular school bag around for children of all ages, but many doctors are concerned about the weight of so many books on young backs.

Katy Abel, who covers family and school education for familyeducation.com, told The Early Show viewers what parents should know about choosing and using backpacks safely.

Health care professionals have begun to recognize that care should be taken in the selection of a backpack.

In 1999, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons surveyed more than 100 doctors at two children's hospitals and 58 percent said they had young patients who complained of back and shoulder pain brought on by backpacks. The contributing factor here is that children are carrying more than 20 pounds of books and other materials in their backpacks daily. For rapidly developing children this could prove hazardous.

Although the long-term effects of poor backpack use are not known, medical professionals say excessive weight and certain bag styles can cause nerve pressure around the neck that could lead to muscle spasms, neck or shoulder pain.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that a backpack never weigh more than 10 to 15 percent of a student's body weight.

The best school bag to have is one that is wheeled, either with or without the backpack option. This style takes the pressure off a young body, affording a student the opportunity to wheel books and other paraphernalia from class to home.

Fashion is often a priority when it comes to school bags. And it goes without saying that many kids think it's "not cool" to use shoulder straps or the waist-belt backpack, opting instead for the trendier messenger bags. Messenger bags are better suited as a fashion accessory than as a book bag. They offer little back support because the weight of their contents is rarely equally distributed across the body.

The reality is, carrying a backpack, on one shoulder, loaded down with books, is believed to compromise the symmetry of the spine and its natural shock absorption. Single strap school bags can also cause a child to lean to one side to compensate for the weight they're bearing - this could in turn result in lower or upper back strain and poor posture.

The good news about backpacks is that they are useful when used properly. When strapped on using both shoulder harnesses and the belt strap, weight from the bag's contents is evenly distributed among the body's strongest muscles — those of the back and abdomen.

Modern Backpacks

Today's backpacks are often cuter than those of old, and have a more ergonomic construction to provide a child's body with added support. Shoulder straps are wider, in some cases are filled with a honeycomb of plastic gel or padded inserts to cushion the shoulders. All have waist belts to secure the pack from banging the child and altering the weight distribution of the contents.

Many higher end models, like those from Nike, have neck and lumbar back supports. Several are designed with many small compartments to allow for better distribution of items. Although where extra compartments are concerned, it's often better to find a backpack with fewer compartments to reduce the likelihood of a child overstuffing a bag.

In addition to choosing the proper sized bag for their child, parents should teach the child how to properly pack a backpack. All heavy books should be packed first, resting closest to the child's back to prevent extra strain on the body.

Taking care in the selection of a backpack could prevent possible spinal problems in the future. So, here are some helpful recommendations.

Pack With Wheels
These packs are always the best way to go. They create no stress on a child's body.


Padded Straps/Waist Belt
If a backpack is your choice, choose an ergonomically designed bag with wide padded shoulder straps and waist band support. Select, if you can, a bag that provides neck and lumbar support as well.

Pack Light
Books and other materials weighing no more than 10 – 15 percent of a child's body weight should be in their backpack.

Pack Heavy Books First
Packing large books closest to the child's body prevents excessive back or neck strain. It is very important that a child knows how to pack their school bag properly.

Messenger Bags
Experts say these bags are not recommended for carrying heavy school books.


Note: High Sierra and JanSport backpacks provided by Staples.