ATLANTA — Even if you're not a parent of school-aged children, the traffic and returning road rage has signaled the beginning of a new school year.
But what may not be common knowledge, even to parents, doctors say, are the risks associated with lugging around heavy backpacks.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, backpack-related injuries send an estimated 5,000 children a year to emergency rooms. More than 14,000 children are treated annually for injuries.
No more than 10-15 percent body weight
Well-padded shoulder straps (over both shoulders, not just one)
Abdominal strap to evenly distribute the backpack load over shoulders and back
Weight of the pack should not fall below the pant line.
Well-padded pack to prevent being poked by pencil boxes, rulers
Heaviest books in the front part of the pack, closest to the back
Source: Dr. David Marshall, medical director of sports medicine
at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta
Carrying a heavy backpack is bad enough, but if a child also suffers from scoliosis, a stress fracture or muscle strain, the weight can aggravate the condition or delay recovery, said Dr. David Marshall, medical director of sports medicine at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.
"The fallout from this could be missing school days due to back pain, missing certain classes (P.E.) and activities such as after-school sports, Scouts and camps," he said.
Marshall said parents should consider a second set of books for home use to avoid carrying the entire load to and from school. In addition, a visit to the doctor to evaluate children for core weakness, tight back muscles and poor posture might also be in order.
The risks associated with heavy backpacks have long been a concern for parents such as Suzanne Schaefer and Diane Crowell, who suggested her daughter bring home only the books she needs to complete assignments.
Because she needed all of them, they compromised. Crowell purchased a rolling bag to take the weight off.
Rolling bags, however, also pose a safety risk, since students have to maneuver staircases, said Schaefer, a mother of an elementary and a middle school student at Cornerstone Preparatory Academy in Kennesaw.
Schaefer said she worries about both having to carry so many books but particularly her son, Matthew, because he is so small.
"The books probably weigh as much as he does, but he has to bring them home every day," she said. "I'm just afraid he might injure himself carrying so many books back and forth." To help take a load off, Marshall offered these tips from Children's Healthcare of Atlanta: