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Backpacks and Back Pains

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Duke Health News 919-660-1306

Your child's backpack could be unhealthy. If a backpack is too heavy
or not worn correctly, it can cause neck, shoulder and back pain and
even lead to spinal problems.

Many experts, including Lloyd Hey,
M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at Duke University Medical Center's Spine
Center and assistant professor of orthopedic surgery, recommends that
children carry no more than 10 to 15 percent of their body weight in
their loaded packs.

Hey strongly cautions against wearing a backpack slung over one shoulder.

"That
applies uneven loading to the spine," he explains. "This can lead to
muscle strain, as well as potentially even bigger problems, such as
microfractures down at the lowest part of the spine. It could
potentially even contribute to problems with spinal deformity, namely
scoliosis, a side-to-side curvature of the spine, or kyphosis, a
curving of the spine that causes a bowing of the back, usually in the
upper back."

Hey says parents can help their children get organized and plan ahead to minimize the number of books they carry.

"Talk
to your child about what they actually need to take back and forth to
school and from class to class," he says. "They should only bring home
the books needed for that night's homework assignments.

"Make
sure they don't carry around the books they'll need for afternoon
classes all day, only the ones they'll need for the next few periods,"
Hey adds. "During the day, they can go back to their locker and
exchange for the books they'll need for their next group of classes."

If
children complain of back pain, Hey suggests requesting an additional
set of textbooks that can be kept and used at home. If back, neck or
shoulder pain persists, parents should take the child's complaints
seriously and be on the lookout for symptoms.

"If you notice that
the child's shoulders are abnormal in terms of not being lined up," he
says, "that could be an indication of an underlying spinal problem,
such as scoliosis, that should be further evaluated by an orthopedic
spine specialist."

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