When Schoolwork Becomes a Pain

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Published on August 11, 2010 with No Comments

Heavy BackpackHeavy backpacks and bags have been known to cause pain and fatigue in children and adults. While these conditions should be a concern for parents and students alike, healthcare professionals increasingly are concerned about the role these bags play in the development of more serious conditions, such as chronic back pain and functional scoliosis, which is caused when the spine becomes twisted because one shoulder muscle is stronger than the other.

“A load of books or materials, distributed improperly or unevenly, day after day, is indeed going to cause stress to a growing spinal column and back,” Kevin Slates, an occupational and environmental health expert at Indiana University Bloomington, said. “The old adage, ‘As the twig is bent, so grows the tree,’ comes to mind. We are seeing a growing concern about the improper use of backpacks and the relatively scarce amount of preventive information available to young people.”

The Consumer Products Safety Commission estimates that 4,928 emergency room visits each year result from injuries related to book bags and back carriers.

“Students attending primary and secondary schools are more susceptible to these disorders because their bodies are developing faster,” Slates said. “Females are even more susceptible because of the physiological demands on their bodies. But body mass and the weight of the back pack plays a role. If she weighs 120 pounds and is carrying a 25-pound backpack, it places a huge burden on her musculoskeletal system.”

Slates, a clinical assistant professor in IUB’s Department of Applied Health Science, suggested that parents should be aware of the weight of their children’s backpacks and encourage them to store some of their books and belongings in lockers.

Slates also suggested that University students should look into the use of temporary lockers on campus so they do not have to carry books for all of their classes all day. Universities should consider placing day lockers throughout campus to facilitate this.

Last spring, Slates and members of the American Society of Safety Engineers began collecting data for the study by weighing backpacks and talking with students at bus stops on the IU Bloomington campus. Slates plans to expand his sample through next spring. In his preliminary findings, the students who reported experiencing pain reported having it in multiple areas, including the neck, shoulders and upper and lower back.

The study examines the use of traditional double-strap backpacks and the newer one-strap bags and messenger bags. The study should shed some light on whether any of these styles result in less pain.

This information was provided by the Indiana University News Room (www.newsinfo.iu.edu)

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