The sweltering heat of the "dog days of summer," combined with the bored faces of the kids in the family can only mean one thing: summer is just about over and it's time for the youngsters to get ready to go back to school.
This can be an exciting time for both older, college-age kids and younger kids alike. It is also a time when back strain and injuries are possible among children and parents.
In the past 35 years, the back specialists at Texas Back Institute have seen many patients – both young and old – who have developed back pain as a result of activities associated with getting ready to go back to school. For the older kids who are going off to college, getting the bare essentials for survival at college such as every stitch of clothing in the closet, mini-refrigerators, sofas and other objects d'art moved to their new homes requires the help of well-meaning parents. This can lead to back strains.
For the younger children, getting the perfect (i.e. cool) school backpack is a primary objective of shopping for school supplies. Unfortunately, the size of this backpack can sometimes be a problem for these little guys. Avoiding back pain for parents and kids during back-to-school time is the subject of this post.
Dr. Rey Bosita, himself the parent of school aged children and a back surgeon at Texas Back Institute, has a few tips for the parents of college students who are moving hundreds of pounds of "essentials" and those who are looking for a functional backpack which won't hurt the developing back muscles of the younger kids.
College kids take everything but the kitchen sink!
"With regard to college students and their parents, most likely the students are younger and healthier than their parents," he said. "So, the problem is with the parents, not the kids. We want to help them carry their luggage, futons, things to build a loft and those things can be very aggravating to your back. The better shape the parents are before they get their kids off to college, the better!"
"I have had patients who have come back from helping their kids move with backaches," he noted. "We usually treat them with anti-inflammatory medicine and physical therapy. However, I have also had some patients who have experienced disc herniation, which required them to have back surgery."
How does one avoid these back injuries from heavy-lifting?
"First of all, if you can avoid lifting heavy weight, that is ideal," Dr. Bosita said. "For example, when you're moving clothing, it's better to pack it in several, smaller bags as opposed to one or two huge boxes. As for lifting couches and desks, it's important to use better mechanics, which includes squatting and using your legs to lift, instead of bending at the waist and using your back."
Buying the right Size backpack for younger children
Younger children all want and need a new backpack for school. What are some tips Dr. Bosita has for picking an appropriate backpack for a child?
"The temptation is always to buy a backpack that's a little bigger than they need because it is something they can grow in to," he said. "But this is a mistake. Backpacks come in different sizes for different sized kids. You wouldn't buy a pair of shoes that are too big – a size 10 when they wear a size 6. You choose the right size for the size of the kid."
"The other temptation is to have the child carry more and more in their backpacks. The guideline is to have a child only carry 1/7 of their bodyweight in the backpack and this includes the weight of the backpack itself. So, if your child only weighs 40 pounds, the backpack should weigh about 5 pounds at most, which is not really that much stuff, if you think about it."
What is the danger to a child with a backpack that is too heavy?
"A lot of time, they will start to develop muscle-fatigue," Dr. Bosita notes. "Or, they will start walking with their back hunched forward as a way to compensate for the weight of the backpack. When a child is wearing a backpack which is too heavy, this will affect their posture and the child will start to feel pain after a while."
"Most manufacturers will have guidelines based on either age or weight of the child," he said. "So mom or dad can buy the most appropriate size for their child. This information should be on the label of the backpack."
Younger kids love to take along extra items (e.g. rocks, shoes, comic books) in their school backpacks. What should a parent do to keep the backpack free of excess clutter?
"You'd be surprised how much junk winds up in a backpack," he laughed. "I suggest that every couple of weeks or once a month, the parent empty the entire backpack to see what 'stuff' needs to come out. Sometimes it might be necessary to have more than one backpack. Meaning there might be a sports backpack and a school backpack."