Just a pain in the back

Feb 222009
Authors: Jessica Cline

Backpack-related injuries are becoming a big problem in the U.S. — increasing by almost 300 percent in the last 10 years — and local doctors say that college students are carrying the heaviest bags among students.

Twenty five CSU students surveyed estimated their backpacks weighed anywhere between 15 and 25 pounds on a daily basis, and April Cardwell, a doctor at the Spine Correction Center of the Rockies, said that number is the result of the material college students are required to have.

“The average back pack probably weighs about 15 to 20 pounds, but college students’ backpacks can get into the upwards of 30 to 40 pounds with all their text books,” she said.

Injuries due to backpack-related body stress — including neck strain, muscle strain and muscle spasms, according to a 2004 U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission study — result when students carry too much and carry it improperly.

“Students try to carry way too much in their back packs,” Cardwell said. “Instead, they should make sure they are only carrying what they absolutely need.”

The CSU students surveyed said they carried everything from laptop computers, text books and notebooks to food, water, changes of clothes and long boards, which they tether onto the outside of the backpack. At one time, Cardwell said, a person should only carry about 10 percent of their individual weight, and this weight should be hauled using both straps of the backpack, evenly distributed over the shoulders.

According to the American Chiropractic Association Web site, children should wear both shoulder straps of back packs because wearing only one shoulder strap can cause a shift of weight to one side, leading to muscle spasms and pain in the low back and shoulders.

The ACA also recommended that children who already have back problems should consider using rolling backpacks to reduce physical stress.

“Children that carry back packs incorrectly, especially heavy ones, put themselves at a health risk,” said Bob Betts, a spokesperson for the Spine Correction Center of the Rockies.

Cardwell, who said she has not always been interested in backpack safety, said she recognized what a growing problem it was after she started working with scoliosis patients.

“I hate to see kids in so much pain at such a young age when they don’t need to be,” she said.

In the past, back pains and problems were never attributed to backpacks and were thought to be associated with other conditions. Only more recently, people have started to realize that there is a correlation.

“The problem with this issue is that it isn’t necessarily diagnosable because most people don’t relate the pain they are having to their back packs,” Cardwell said.

She said there is not really any way for schools to lessen the load besides possibly giving students note packets in place of textbooks. It is mostly up to students to make decisions about what to carry, she said.

“This issue will definitely get worse if it is not taken care of,” Cardwell said. “Students are dealing with pain on a day-to-day basis and having to be medicated because of the weight they are carrying. This not only affects (students) now, but as they age, the issues will continue and students will find themselves with neck and back issues because of the weight they are carrying now.”

Collegian survey of 25 students:

10 lbs or less — Five students

11 to 15 lbs — Eight students

16 to 20 lbs — Seven students

21 to 25 lbs — Four students

Above 25 lbs — One student

* Figures based on student estimations

Staff writer Jessica Cline can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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