From my Healthy Living column in Moncton’s Times & Transcript.

When I was in early elementary school, the most desired item on my back-to-school shopping list was a new book bag. My mother had heard before my brother and I were even old enough to attend school that children could injury their backs with heavy backpacks and therefore was adamantly opposed to backpacks. When a relative gave me a book bag on wheels when I was entering kindergarten, my mom decided that it could serve as my school bag.

For my first few years of school, I sported the clown-like book bag on wheels that featured a bright, glaring print and eye-catching red handles and wheels. Although I’ve never been particularly fashion conscious, even as a first grader I thought my book bag was embarrassingly hideous and was jealous when my brother was saved from inheriting it after my mom decided to purchase trendier models for both of us when he started school.

Was the book bag on wheels necessary? According to the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons, ”Backpacks that are too heavy or are worn incorrectly can cause problems for children and teenagers. Improperly used backpacks may injure muscles and joints. This can lead to severe back, neck, and shoulder pain, as well as posture problems.” suggests that a backpack shouldn’t weigh more than 10 to 15% of the user’s body weight. If a backpack weighs more than it should, it can compress your spine by encouraging you to lean forward to offset its weight.

When I weighed the book bag on wheels that I used for my first week at university, it weighed a whopping 25.5 pounds. Therefore, I conclude that my mom was right: book bags on wheels can be helpful when you have a huge load to carry. However, the only sure way to avoid injury is to behave responsibly. Injuring your back apparently isn’t the only way to hurt yourself with a book bag or backpack.

According to a study about backpack injuries that required an emergency room visit published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the most common body part injured was the head or face. Injuries to the head or face accounted for 22% of the 247 studied injuries due to backpacks that sent school age children (from ages 6 to 18) to American ERs in 1999-2000, while hand injuries represented 14%, wrist/elbow injuries 13%, shoulder injuries 12%, foot/ankle injuries 12%, and back injuries a surprisingly slim 11%.

Why? The most likely cause of backpack related injury was not wearing a backpack (this had 13% likelihood of being the cause), but tripping over it (this was the cause of injury in 28% of cases). The second leading cause of injury was being hit by a backpack (13% of cases).

Using a backpack has a minute effect on health when compared to the serious effects of activities like smoking. Regardless, it’s an interesting case study that shows that simple things can have an impact on us when ”common” sense isn’t applied.


Originally published in the Times & Transcript on September 18th, 2010.


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