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Backpack Injuries Alarming Parents and Teachers!

There has been an increasing concern on the part of parents and school officials regarding children and backpacks. In particular, over loaded backpacks have been implicated in a rise in various musculoskeletal complaints in children. The month of April has been proclaimed backpack month and we at ergoboy have decided to take this opportunity to educate the public on the issue and offer some solutions for this growing problem. 

In a 1999 survey by the American Academy of Orthopedics, 71% of the respondents indicated that backpacks posed a clinical problem for children and that 58% of the doctors reported seeing children with back and shoulder pain directly attributable to carrying overloaded backpacks.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that in 1998 there were over 12,000 visits to emergency rooms by 5 to 18-year-olds due to backpack-related injuries. A recent Australian research study concluded, "that ongoing concern is warranted regarding adolescent spinal responses to repeated heavy load carriage and prolonged sitting… adult spinal pain is common and costly and every effort should be made to minimize environmental hazards for the adolescent spine"

There have been reports of actions taken by parents and teachers to obviate the problem. One school board recently discovered that in grades four through eight almost 25% of the parents were driving their children to bus stops due to their overloaded backpacks and that over half the parents had to assist their children in lifting the packs onto their shoulders.

The same school board also suggested asking teachers to stagger homework assignments throughout the week so the kids would not have to carry their entire curriculum of books home each night. In another district, the board was considering providing duplicate books for their middle school students so they would not have to tote their books back and forth between school and home. Teachers have even intercepted overloaded students in hallways in an effort to lighten their loads. Some schools have already banned backpacks from hallways and classrooms due to the hazards they present to other students due to crowded conditions.

The Backpack Safety America program is an organization formed to deal with the problem. The company promotes backpack safety by working with local participating doctors to bring the program into schools. BSA is an 8-step prevention program designed to teach students, parents and teachers the biomechanics of safe and correct backpack use. The program utilizes videos, presentations, brochures, posters and surveys to teach aspects of correctly packing, lifting and carrying backpacks.

The first consideration in safe backpack use is choosing the right size. The bottom of the pack should end just a few inches above the waist. Most experts recommend that children carry no more than 10 to 15% of their weight in backpacks. Heavier books should be loaded first and backpacks should have compartments to evenly distribute the weight. When lifting the backpack the user should face the pack and bend at the knees and then lift with both hands. The pack should be mounted with one strap and then the other. The straps should be tightened for a secure fit and if there is a waist strap it should be used to stabilize the load. Since the pack makes the child top-heavy the only appropriate activity while wearing a backpack is walking. The child is vulnerable to falls if on a bike, skateboard, roller skates or skateboards.

We recommend backpacks made by AIRPACKS. Founded in 1997 the company has built an ergonomic support system into its product. Developed by medical professionals the packs reduce stress to the user by 80% and lighten the load by 30%. Air filled straps and a lumbar cushion shift the weight from the neck, shoulders and upper back to the low back. The pack has a V-shaped configuration that also contributes to a lower center of gravity and thus more stability. The company also produces briefcases and computer bags all utilizing these patented air-filled bladders.

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