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Back(pack) to school

Your child's return to classes doesn't have to be a pain

If you think these hot, humid temperatures are enough to weigh you down, imagine how the school kids must feel with a bunch of books on their backs.

While bearing the load of books isn't likely to cause a heat stroke, the American Chiropractic Association (ACA) says parents should be concerned about upper body injuries.

Backpacks are the leading cause of back and shoulder pain for millions of children and adolescents each year according to the ACA, an association that represents doctors of chiropractic. And children are suffering from back pain much earlier than previous generations, the group says.

The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) also warns parents that bags that are too heavy or are worn incorrectly could injure a child's bones, muscles and joints.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's latest statistics, about 10,000 children aged 19 and under were treated at hospital emergency rooms, doctors' offices and clinics for backpack-related injuries in 2005. Injuries such as tripping and falling or getting hit by a backpack are common. A large number of these injuries -- particularly chronic complaints such as those seen by orthopedic surgeons -- include strains to the shoulder, neck and back from carrying a backpack.

"Injury can occur when a child who is trying to adapt to a heavy load uses faulty posture such as arching the back, bending forward or leaning to one side," said James H. Beaty, MD, first vice president of the AAOS, on the organization's Web site.

"A backpack load that is too heavy also causes muscles and soft tissues to work harder, leaving the neck, shoulders and back more vulnerable to injury," he said.

The doctors agree that the backpack itself is not the culprit. Children simply haven't been shown proper methods of packing, lifting and carrying their backpacks.

Overloading seems to be the chief culprit in backpack-related injuries. The ACA says a child's book bag should weigh no more than 10 percent of his or her body weight, and parents should aim for only 5 percent.

The way a child wears his backpack can also be detrimental to his physical well-being. The carryall should never hang more than 4 inches below the waistline. Wearing it too low can cause a child to lean forward when walking.

Even packing the child's tote properly is important. Where you put the heavy stuff does make a difference. Doctors suggest placing the heavy items in the big compartment close to the body, where the weight won't cause as much of a shift to the center of the body mass. Remember to place pointed objects or those with sharp corners facing away from the back.

Another way to keep the load even on the body is to make sure the child uses both straps. This is one of the biggest mistakes children make, according to the ACA. Slinging the bag over one shoulder puts more strain on one side of the body which leads to neck and low-back pain. If a parent notices their child using one strap constantly, then the parent should consider purchasing a sling bag, designed to be carried across the body.

Finally, parents can also talk to teachers about the load of books their child is carrying. Ask if heavier books can be left at school or if a set can be left at home. Ask the teacher if class time is provided at school for homework and if your child is taking full advantage of it.   To address the growing trend of injuries in young children from backpacks, doctors of chiropractic have banned together to create Backpack Safety America/International, an eight-step prevention program to train parents, students and teachers in the correct way to use backpacks.

You can find out more about Backpack Safety America by visiting www.backpacksafe.com

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