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Trends & News

Back to school, back packs and back health

Tracy Hernandez
Senior staff writer

As recent studies have found, and parents have long suspected, school backpacks — which are often overloaded and improperly carried — can cause back pain in kids, teenagers and college students.

This back pain could lead to some long-term damage, according to Dr. Jerrel Boyer, a neurological surgeon at the Chicago Back Institute.

“Young people are typically strong and healthy, and they heal quickly, so back pain is usually not a concern. However, it is important to be aware of your back health even at a young age because stress on the spine is cumulative over time,” Boyer said. “Wear and tear on your back at a young age can accelerate injuries or the degenerative process later in life.”

Your child may not even notice the load throughout any given day — but assuming that he or she begins carrying textbooks in 8th grade, and continues through college — he or she is sustaining back stressors every school day, for approximately nine years. This adds up.

And students are not the only ones who feel the effects of this trend. Adults who lug around overstuffed purses, laptop bags, briefcases and carry-on luggage — particularly over one shoulder — are also causing unnecessary stress and potentially long-term damage.

This trend may be part of the reason that eight of every 10 American adults has experienced back pain, and why pain tends to intensify as we age.

Fortunately, making simple lifestyle changes can significantly reduce your risk for back pain and long-term damage — and Dr. Boyer has some quick tips to get you and your kids started:

1. When possible, use bags and backpacks with rollers, rather than with straps alone. Using a rolling backpack nearly eliminates stress on your back.

2.  Do not overload your bags. For students, if leaving text books behind is not an option, consider purchasing two of each of your text books so you can keep one at home, and one at school.

3. Purchase a backpack that is equipped with cushioned shoulder pads and a buckle across the chest, which can further distribute the weight of the pack. Also, be sure to the bag is sized proportional to your size.

4.  Last but not least, concerned parents should remind their kids (especially teenagers) to wear their backpack on both shoulders to evenly distribute the backpack weight, and never let it hang beyond your lower back. Boyer, a father of two school-age boys, jokes that kids may not always listen — as it’s not “cool” — but it can’t hurt to try.