Chiropractor: Bookbags carry risk of spinal injury

Aug. 12, 2013 @ 12:29 PM

Bookbags, when worn improperly, can carry a lot more than heavy textbooks and a stash of school supplies. They can carry the very real possibility of spinal injury.
That’s the warning of a local chiropractor, who says most parents give little thought to the harm their kids’ bookbags can cause.
“There’s more academic demand than ever, kids are carrying more books than ever, and they’re just throwing them all in the bookbag, and it’s hurting these kids,” said Dr. Joseph Fonke of High Point Chiropractic. “We’re seeing more and more kids with spinal complaints in our practice.”
In addition, Fonke said, spinal injury can affect the central nervous system, leading to other medical problems.
“It’s called vertebral subluxation, which is misalignment of the spinal column, causing irritation to the nervous system,” he said. “It’s been associated with ear infections, asthma, enuresis, back pain, neck pain, headaches and even sinus/allergy type problems.”
One common mistake students make is slinging their bookbag over one shoulder, rather than both shoulders.
“They’re putting uneven weight on the shoulders and spine, so the spine is having to compensate for all the weight being on one side,” Fonke explained.
“And even if they wear two straps, a lot of times they wear it far too low, which puts a lot of adverse stress on the upper spine and neck, causing them to have to lean forward to compensate for the amount of weight that’s down low. And by doing these things repetitively — every single day for 13 years, or even into college years — these global changes in the way a kid stands up can occur, leading to further issues such as headaches and dizziness.”
Another problem is the sheer weight of children’s bookbags.
“According to studies, the bookbag should weigh no more than 10 percent of the child’s body weight,” Fonke said.
If a student must carry several books at once, the heaviest book should be placed in the part of the bookbag closest to the child’s back, to put less strain on his or her spine, he added.
Studies support Fonke’s views about bookbags and spinal health.
For example, according to statistics provided by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), more than 2,000 backpack-related injuries were treated at hospital emergency rooms, doctors’ offices and clinics in 2007.
In another study, 64 percent of American students between 11 and 15 reported back pain related to heavy bookbags, and 21 percent reported the pain lasting for more than six months.
The AOTA offers the following bookbag-related tips:
•It should weigh no more than 10 percent of the child’s weight.
•Load heaviest items closest to the child’s back.
•Use a bookbag on wheels, if your child’s school allows them.
•Distribute weight evenly by using both straps.
•Select a pack with well-padded shoulder straps.
•Adjust straps so the bag fits snugly on the child’s back.
•Wear the waist belt if the bookbag has one.
•The bottom of the bag should rest in the curve of the lower back.
jtomlin@hpe.com | 888-3579

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For more information about proper use of bookbags, visit the website of the American Occupational Therapy Association at www.aota.org and type “bookbags” in the search field.