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Kids' backpacks may not cause back pain after all

ANN ARBOR, Mich. Backpacks have gotten a bad rap. For years, specialists have urged school children to lighten their loads, wear their backpacks on both shoulders and avoid lugging around those heavy school bags whenever possible.

But new research from a University of Michigan Health System physiatrist indicates backpacks don't cause the stress and strain on young backs that they've been linked to.

"There is no good scientific evidence to support the claim that schoolbag load is a contributing factor to the development of low back pain in growing children," says Andrew Haig, M.D., medical director of the U-M Spine Program and associate professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and of Surgery at the U-M Medical School. Rather, he points to signs that children's activity level and weight may have more to do with back pain.

Despite a flurry of attention to this issue, Haig's study is the first to actually measure pain related to backpack use.

The study, which will be presented Wednesday, May 21, at the World Congress of the International Society for Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine in Prague, Czech Republic, looked at 184 elementary and middle school children in the Ann Arbor, Mich., public school district. The study focused on third grade pupils and middle school students; ages ranged from 7 to 15.

The children were initially asked about their backpack use, back pain, activity level and transportation to school. Haig and his colleagues then examined the pupils one day toward the end of the school year, before their first class. The children and their backpacks were weighed, and the child's height was measured. The numbers were used to determine the backpack weight as a percentage of body weight.

Virtually all the students said they used a backpack every day. Third graders were found to carry 5.7 percent of their body weight while middle schoolers carried 11.4 percent of their body weight. Also, despite warn
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Contact: Nicole Fawcett
nfawcett@umich.edu
734-764-2220
University of Michigan Health System
21-May-2003


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