Children are five times more likely to be hurt tripping over backpacks or being hit with them than they are using the bags to lug around heavy school supplies, a new study suggests.
While there has been growing concern about back trouble in children who carry loaded-down packs, researchers found the back was one of the least likely places where children were injured.
"In the whole study only 6 percent of the injuries were back injuries caused by children carrying their backpacks," researcher Dr. Eric Wall, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, told CBS Radio News.
When kids did get hurt, about 23 percent of all injuries in the 247 children studied were caused by wearing, lifting or taking off a backpack, according to the study.
"It turned out that about 30 percent of the injuries were actually from tripping over their backpacks and another 13 percent were from being hit by a backpack," said Wall.
"This result shows that the actual use of a backpack is not exceptionally dangerous, and efforts should be directed toward educating children on proper backpack safety habits rather than restricting loads and redesigning backpacks," concludes the study published in the January issue of the journal Pediatrics.
How much children carry to school and how they carry it has been the focus of some attention. California last year passed a law for standards on maximum textbook weights and some children around the country now use backpacks with wheels to roll — instead of carry — their books to school.
Wall said parents and schools may be missing the boat.
"In some cases you're doing expensive alternatives such as getting two sets of books, one for the children to have at school and another set to have at home, going to laptop computers and other expensive alternatives, and also photocopying homework assignments," Wall said.
The study looked at backpack-related injuries resulting in emergency room visits that were reported to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in 1999 and 2000.
The study acknowledges a limitation: By focusing on injuries that sent children to emergency departments, it misses those injuries diagnosed and treated in a physician's office.
For those years, the agency's data projected a national estimate of more than 12,000 injuries linked to bookbags or back carriers, excluding infant-carriers and camping backpacks.
In this study, researchers focused on a sample of 247 children between the ages of 6 and 18 with backpack injuries.
Properly stowing away backpacks at home and at school could have prevented many of the injuries, said Wall.
"Some simple prevention, such as providing cubbyholes to put the backpacks or hooks on the desks or backs of the desks to put their backpacks could prevent a lot of injuries," he said.
Backpack-related injuries that landed children in the emergency room ranged from cuts on the face and head to jammed fingers and fractures to shoulder strains and ankle sprains.
The combination of wearing a backpack and sustaining an injury to the back accounted for 6 percent of the injuries. However, 19 shoulder injuries were linked to wearing, lifting or taking off a back pack.
That's why the American Chiropractic Association's Jerome McAndrews said children still need to be careful about how they carry their backpacks and how much weight they put in them.