I (Marilyn Miller von Foerster) was recently contacted by the Oregon School Boards Association regarding the work being done by a chiropractor in North Carolina, Dr. Winn Sams, bringing the backpack problem to the awareness of legislators around the country. Dr. Sams and I have been in contact. Like me, she is a concerned mother as well as a back health professional committed to prevention.
Dr. Sams’ efforts are focused on reducing the weight allowed in conventional backpacks although her main concern is poor posture and resultant spinal damage. Weight in the backpack is important since the increased weight increases the postural distortion backpacks cause, and most students use the conventional backpack. Here is a link to a petition she has started and asked for my help in circulating. http://www.change.org/petitions/hold-legislators-and-policymakers-accountable-limit-school-backpack-weight-to-no-more-than-10-of-a-child-s-bodyweight
There are some statements that I believe need slight revision for accuracy, and others needing documentation, but with the following qualification, I originally felt comfortable signing it to get it into action.
Bravo to Dr. Sams for her efforts to have this serious problem addressed. Postural distortion and its related pain from backpack use by children is a deep concern I have shared for over 12 years. It is important to note however that backpacks create postural distortion even with little or no added weight because they impose an off-axis load. The postural distortion and resultant pain of backpack users increases with increased weight, so it is important to have as little weight as possible for students who continue to use this as an everyday carrying system.
Most folks, however, don’t realize that weighting the spine with appropriate loads in good alignment during the growth period is actually essential for optimal spinal health and postural development. There are a few bag options that load axially to ensure proper spinal alignment, and therefore train good posture rather than distorting it. I have designed one of these school bag alternatives: The BackTpack.
However, as I have become sharply aware, even the smallest of school children (first and second graders) have pain and instability with their backpacks even with nearly nothing in them. With an axial (bilateral) loading system, their pain is gone and they can move freely because the posture and balance are not distorted.
I am more concerned than ever to get the discussion focused on posture rather than on weight carried. Controlling the percentage of weight each child carries for school will be a tremendous burden for the educational system and will only perpetuate the main problem which is imbalance and distortion of posture with resultant pain during growth and development.
Our educational system is uninformed about the true nature of the problem and its effective solutions, and therefore our students are not fully educated about the lifetime care of their bodies starting with their daily life as students.
As a physical therapist, I am committed to providing correct and complete back health information to our society and policymakers. It is for that reason I do not feel comfortable signing the petition in its current form and emphasis.
It is urgent, however, that the harm done by school backpack use is brought to the attention of our policymakers. Lifetime orthopaedic health must be addressed during the growth period. That is the reason the term “orthopaedic” was created from “ortho” straight and “paedic” child. If any of you feel comfortable signing the petition now for this reason or sharing it with others to sign, I look forward to working together for future clarification in order to reach effective long-term and economical solutions.
Dr. Sams and I plan to collaborate on future efforts to solve the problem of back health related to carrying school supplies. Meanwhile, her daughter is enthusiastically wearing a BackTpack! A bilateral system such as this has been shown to improve posture and balance, reduce pain, and impart confidence and a feeling of wellbeing while providing an experiential learning system of physics, physiology and physical education.
As trusted advisors to the Legislature on childrens’ health issues, HKLB Coalition provides complete, accurate information to our legislature, educators and families. I would be happy to provide medical documentation on this subject.