Cut Your Back Some Slack
By Andrea Genovese Soares (October 2, 2002)
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, in the year 2000, about 13,000 children paid a visit to ERs throughout the country due to backpack-related injuries, a grievance that has increased 330% since 1996. Being pioneers against the evils of heavy and improperly used backpacks, California and New Jersey have passed laws limiting the weight that a child can carry on their back.
At a middle school I briefly attended, backpacks were strictly prohibited. Generally, the pile of books we were expected to carry would have a height smaller than a foot. I personally didnít think it was uncomfortable. At the time, I just thought it was a weird custom, but now I notice that it addresses a very serious health concern.
Ants can carry 50 times their weight, but we canít. Many back problems can be attributed to heavy or improperly used backpacks. They have been known to cause back, neck, arms, and shoulder pain, along with tingling and numbness, (especially in the arms), loss of arm strength, burning sensations, poor posture, and general discomfort. Now, that is not news! If you have to struggle to pick up your backpack, you obviously need to change something.
There are many things that can be
done to reduce the possible damage to our backs. It all starts at the store
where you plan to buy your backpack. Look for the one with the thick, squishy,
or padded straps. These straps help distribute the weight, reducing the
risk of strain on the back, chest, or shoulders, along with making the
pack much more comfortable. Plus: cutting your blood circulation is definitely
not a good idea. The backpack with one strap can be stylish, but is quite
possibly the worse thing you can do to your back on a daily basis. It causes
you to lean to one side to compensate for the weight, which can lead to
serious lower and upper back pain, and strained shoulders and neck. The
padded hip straps that come from the base of the backpack and hook up at
the front serve the same purpose and are extremely effective. And again:
donít let it cut your circulation. You donít have to be that smart to know
that if you canít breathe, SOMETHING IS WRONG! The sternum straps are also
a good idea because they keep the pack close to the body. Keep in mind:
backpacks shouldnít hang more than four inches below the waist. Also, look
for many compartments: they are not only useful for organizational purposes,
but are also great tools to help us distribute the weight evenly.
Packing the bag can play an important role in providing comfort. Different sources vary on this topic, but most say that the heavy objects should not be placed on the bottom or top of the bag. They should be close to our backs. The lighter objects should be placed further away from the back.
Do you know how to pick up a backpack? I know this seems very silly, since weíve dealt with this ever since we can remember. Itís almost an instinctive skill. Yet, many parents have seriously hurt themselves trying to lift their childís backpack, because they donít know how. There are two places from where you can pick up a bag: one is from a desk or other higher surface, and another is from the floor. From a higher surface, place the straps and then lift it up without involving any bending of the back. Use your legs for support. Raising a backpack from the floor is a little more challenging, but involves the same principles. Face the backpack, bend your knees with a straight back, hold the bag with both hands, and place one strap at a time. When carrying it, try avoiding simultaneous movements, like bending and standing, it cuts down your chances of hurting yourself. In a high school situation, these seem impossible, but nothing is.
There are other alternatives. Some schools are allowing parents to purchase two sets of books: one for school and one for home. This obviously helps to reduce the great risks that haunt the teenagers of our time. Our parents didnít have to haul the same weight we do, so why should we have to? The rolling backpacks are also a good idea, until you think of the tripping hazard they cause. Who hasnít had the great experience of tripping on one in the smack middle of the hall? Some schools have gone as far as prohibiting them.
There are many things that can be
done to cut your back some slack, so donít complain about it. I know what
you are thinkingó"Andrea, you are the first one to open your mouth when
it comes to complaining." I DO complain a lot about it, but again, I complain
about a lot of things. (I guess Iím just a whiner.) I will try to stop.
Perhaps what Iím REALLY complaining of is the homework, but thatís a different