At the end of the month, students will be putting on their new school outfits, shoes and backpacks, hopping on a bus and filing through the halls of their schools on the first day.
But local chiropractor Dr. Nicholas Tyger with Fay-West Chiropractic Health Center in East Huntingdon Township cautions that students need to be cognizant of how much they’ll be stuffing in their backpacks this year.
“The ACA (American Chiropractic Association) recommends limiting the backpack’s weight to 10 percent of the child’s body weight, as well as wearing the backpack appropriately,” said Tyger.
“For instance, if your 10-year-old child weighs 70 pounds, the weight of their backpack should not exceed seven pounds according to the ACA,” he said.
Anyone who carries a heavier load than that is at risk for injury.
“If someone attempts to carry a load that is too great, injury may appear fast and furious or after a period of time,” Tyger said.
The “when” depends on several factors, including the weight of the load, how the load is carried and the number of times the load has been poorly carried.
“If the weight is much too heavy for the child to carry, a mild to moderate muscle strain may occur as soon as the first trip home from school,” said Tyger. “If the weight is excessive, but the child can manage it by distorting their posture, the negative effects may take longer to express as symptoms.”
The website of the American Chiropractic Association said a newer back pain trend among youngsters isn’t surprising when considering the disproportionate amounts of weight they carry in their backpacks
Dr. Scott Bautch, a member of the ACA’s Council on Occupational Health said a study conducted in Italy found that the average child carries a backpack that would be the equivalent of a 39-pound burden for a 176-pound man, or a 29-pound load for a 132-pound woman. Of those children carrying heavy backpacks to school, 60 percent had experienced back pain as a result.
He added that preliminary results of studies conducted in France show that the longer a child wears a backpack, the longer it takes for a curvature or deformity of the spine to correct itself.
But overloaded backpacks are just one piece of the puzzle. Issues can also occur by using a backpack that is not padded or reinforced well or by wearing it the wrong way such as using just one shoulder strap.
When it comes to buying a backpack, Tyger said bigger is not always better.
“A bigger backpack leads to over packing, increasing the weight,” he said. “Look for something that fits your child’s frame with padded shoulder straps and, if possible, a padded waist strap/belt.
“Backpacks should be worn with both shoulder straps and a waist strap/ belt if one is available,” Tyger added. “The straps should be padded appropriately and adjusted to the child’s height.”
The bottom of the backpack should not be worn lower than four inches below the waistline.
“If it is too low, the child will lean forward to compensate which will stress the neck and shoulders,” Tyger said. “Ideally, the waist belt (if present) should be padded too and sit directly on the top of the hip bones or just above it. These straps allow for improved weight distribution, lessening the burden of the low back & shoulders.
How a child packs their backpack is equally important.
“They need to put the bigger and heavier books towards the back of the bag - closest to the child’s back when being worn,” said Tyger. “The farther the weight is away from the child, the more difficult it will be to carry.”
While heavy backpacks can affect students who don’t have a pre-existing back issue, those who do, such as scoliosis, are far more likely to get injured.
Tyger said it’s important for a student or the parent to communicate any concerns with teachers or principals at beginning of school year.
“Teachers may be open to allowing the student to make more frequent trips to his or her locker to exchange books, use textbooks already present in classroom, share books with a classmate, or some other solution that is in line with the teachers’ lesson plans,” he said.
Dr. Kevin Hartbauer, superintendent at Brownsville Area School District said this has not been a concern or an issue in their district.
“However, if we have a student with a medical condition and medical documentation, we make all the necessary accommodations for that student,” he said.
Dr. Daniel Bosnic, assistant to the superintendent at Uniontown Area School District, said they are always willing to work with students if they have a medical need.
“Also, a majority of our textbooks now have a complete version that is available to our students online,” he added.
Although Connellsville Area School District does not have a specific board policy pertaining to backpacks, Superintendent Joseph Bradley said “as with all health related issues, our administrators make reasonable accommodations regardless of what they are.”
Tyger said when someone enters their office experiencing back pain, their first goal is to reduce that pain, and as the pain improves, they work to strengthen and stabilize the appropriate areas
This treatment can include chiropractic adjustments to the joints of the spine/ pelvis that aren’t moving as they should and performing other therapies such as electrical muscle stimulation (STIM), which decreases muscle tension and aids in pain relief, and intersegmental traction (roller table), which helps to increase and restore necessary elasticity and motion to the spine.
Other treatments can include low level laser (cold laser) that accelerate tissue healing and lessen pain, and also therapeutic exercises which can be stretches or strengthening activities.