Doctors give ‘back' to school safety warning

Many Midlands parents may have picked up backpacks during back-to-school tax-free shopping, and it's the 'back' in 'back-to-school' that local doctors are talking about.

"Unfortunately the technology (in making the backpacks) has gotten so good the kids can carry too much weight," said Dr. Mark Locke, a pediatric orthopedic specialist with the Moore Clinic and Palmetto Health Children's Hospital. "So I think it's now an important issue for parents to be aware of and especially for the middle school age group."

Dr. Locke says because backpacks can now hold so much weight, there's often a mismatch of a child wearing a backpack made for an adult.

Doctors say children should not be carrying more than 20 percent of their body weight. "Use your scale!," said Dr. Locke. "Everybody has a scale…. we're all worried about our weight. So use your scale, take your kids backpack and weigh it, weight it, weigh it."

Dr. Locke adds as a student packs a backpack, the heaviest books in the bag should be carried closest to the child's back as it is easier to support the bag when packed that way. He says while some have turned to rolling backpacks, that they are not always the most practical for students in crowded hallways. Dr. Locke adds that he believes the best option is to keep an eye on the weight of the bag.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission says nearly 5,000 emergency room visits are injuries related to book bags each year.

While it was long believed that a heavy backpack could cause scoliosis in a child, Dr. Locke says that is not the case because recent studies have shown scoliosis is hereditary.

However, doctors say a heavy backpack can cause extreme pain and damage to a child's body. "Your spine connects to your pelvis and that area is an area that can get really irritated," said Dr. Locke. "It's called your SI joint. We see probably 10 kids a week who get back pain in that area from backpacks."

Dr. Locke says making sure your child is not carrying a heavy load will not only help avoid their pain, but also a huge medical expense. A child with back pain can often lead to tests that cost upwards of $15,000.

Dr. Locke adds he believes that this type of injury may start to go away as tablets and e-readers become more prevalent in schools. However, until then he says it's critical that parents keep an eye on their kids 'backs' as they head back to school.

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