Pack Attack

Just for kids

Kid News

February 11, 1999|By Candace Purdom | Candace Purdom,Chicago Tribune

Is a heavy backpack attacking your back? Then take a load off, sit back and read on:

Today, more and more of you are weighing yourselves down with hefty backpacks. Here's how we figure it: You're facing tough academic competition and often have loads of homework. Accelerated classes mean bigger, and more, textbooks. You have to lug more stuff because schools have turned to smaller lockers, or even done away with lockers altogether. Short passing periods don't let you get to your lockers between classes. Also, because you're often involved in a zillion activities, you may have to pack your backpack not only for school, but for after-school events.

Kids ``seem to be almost storing everything in their backpacks, from their change of clothes to books to lunches and all that other stuff,'' says Robert Brady, an Illinois doctor who specializes in spine injuries. ``And the accumulation of all that weight changes them almost into pack mules.''

Take Shelley H. Last fall, the sixth-grader says, her pack held textbooks, her Trapper, extra paper, spirals, an assignment notebook, pens and pencils and a calculator - and weighed about 35 pounds.

``I couldn't carry it home anymore,'' she says. ``I had to call my mom to pick me up, and even she couldn't carry it - she had to drag it.''

Shelley's back hurt - and it turned out she had a stress fracture. Besides undergoing physical therapy, Shelley wore a back brace 23 hours a day and used a luggage carrier to lug around her books for one whole month. ``I pulled it like flight attendants do,'' she says.

An Auburn University study found that heavy backpacks, especially when carried by only one strap, are risky for kids' spine growth and posture. And the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says backpack injuries send hundreds of children to emergency rooms each year.

Here's how to prevent serious injury, according to docs:

* Don't carry more than 10 percent of your weight.

* Wear both straps. (Be brave and start a trend!) A single strap puts unnatural stress on one shoulder and can change the way you walk. Shoulder straps should be padded, short and snug.

* Put your pack on a desk or table, then lift it and slip it on. Don't swing it up from the floor.

* The backpack should hug the center of your back, not droop over your butt (making backward strain worse).

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