Back pain is pervasive among American adults, but a new and disturbing trend is emerging among the nation's youth. Young children are suffering from back pain much earlier than previous generations, and the use of overweight backpacks and poorly designed computer workstations is a contributing factor.
This October during Spinal Health Month, sponsored by the American Chiropractic Association(ACA), doctors of chiropractic across the country are urging parents, teachers and school administrators to take steps to help stop this trend.
"The increase in back pain among youngsters isn't suprising when you consider the disproportionate amounts of weight they carry in their backpacks - often slung over just one shoulder - and the long hours they spend tapping away at computer keyboards," said Dr. Kelly Synowiec-Moroney. "These activities can negatively impact a child's body during the developing years, resulting in harmfull physical effects that can last a lifetime."
According to the ACA's Council on Occupational Health, a recent 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. Other studies have shown that slinging a backpack over one shoulder can exacerbate the curvature of the spine in scoliosis patients.
A recently published study conducted by a team of researchers from Cornell University found that 40 Percent of the elementary school children they studied used computer workstations that put them at postural risk. The remaining 60 percent scored in a range indicating "some concern."
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
WATCH THOSE BACKPACKS:
*Make sure your child's backpack weighs no more than 5 to 10 percent of his or her body weight. A heavier backpack will cause your child to bend forward in an attempt to support the weight on his or her back, rather than on the shoulders, by the straps.
*The backpack should never hang more than four inches below the waistline. A backpack that hangs too low increases the weight on the shoulders, causing your child to lean forward when walking.
* A backpack with individualized compartments helps in positioning the contents most effectively. Make sure that pointy or bulky objects are packed away from the area that will rest on your child's back.
* Bigger is not necessarily better. The more room there is in a backpack, the more your child will carry-and the heavier the backpack will be.
* Urge your child to wear both shoulder straps. Lugging the backpack around by one strap can cause the disproportionate shift of weight to one side, leading to neck and muscle spasms, as well as low-back pain.
* Wide, padded straps are very important. Non-padded straps are uncomfortable and can dig into your child's shoulders.
* The shoulder straps should be adjustable so the backpack can be fitted to your child's body. Straps that are too loose can cause the backpack to dangle uncomfortably and cause spinal problems.
* If the backpack is still too heavy, talk to your child's teacher. Ask if your child could leave the heaviest books at school and bring home only lighter hand-out materials or workbooks.
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