Doctor works to send back pain packing. - Posted Joanne Wojcik
Back injuries often are cited as the most common reason for absenteeism in the general workforce after the common cold. In fact, back disorders account for nearly one-quarter of all occupational injuries and illnesses involving lost time from work, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Acknowledging this risk, human resource executives, risk managers and workers compensation managers often implement back injury prevention programs that teach their workers how to lift and recognize their limitations so they don't injure themselves by carrying too heavy a load.
Unfortunately, similar training is not directed toward school children, who are experiencing a rise in back injuries and musculoskeletal disorders caused by the weight of their book-laden backpacks. Among the injuries increasingly being diagnosed are herniated discs, degenerative osteoarthritis, migraine headaches and scoliosis.
Experts recommend that a child carry no more than 15% of his or her body weight. That means anything more than 7 pounds is too heavy for the average 7-year-old, who averages 50 pounds. Even a 130-pound student should shoulder no more than 19 pounds, experts say.
Dr. Winn Sams, a chiropractic physician who practices near Charlotte, N.C., has begun a crusade to address childhood backpack injuries after witnessing firsthand this burgeoning phenomenon.
“From a chiropractic standpoint, we see 16-year-olds with herniated discs and all kinds of postures you don't usually see until much later in life,” she says. In addition, scoliosis is becoming rampant, and degenerative conditions that usually are found in older adults routinely are being diagnosed in young children and teenagers.
Dr. Sams has created a website, www.bacsupport.com, to bring this issue to the forefront and is lobbying her state's lawmakers to enact legislation that would encourage the use of digital textbooks, which can be downloaded onto lightweight tablet computers like Kindle or iPad. Not only would this reduce back strain among children and teens, it also could save school districts money. Digital editions are cheaper than print copies of books and are more environmentally friendly, lowering disposal and recycling costs.
“Digital textbooks are a far more efficient and far-reaching alternative choice,” Dr. Sams says. “Some schools are already using digital textbooks and are having phenomenal results.”
California introduced an initiative last fall to replace high school math and science textbooks with digital editions.
In addition to lifting this weight from California students' shoulders, the move could improve the quality of their education. With electronic textbooks, updates can be downloaded as they occur.
The move to digital textbooks should save the cash-strapped Golden State hundreds of millions in tax dollars, too. While the average printed textbook costs between $70 and $100, digital textbooks cost only a fraction of that amount. Some are even free.
In signing the legislation, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger estimated that California schools would save between $300 million and $400 million this school year by switching from print to digital textbooks.
Aside from education, imagine the potential reduction in health care costs if only our nation's future workforce had access to this simple—and logical—loss prevention strategy.
As Dr. Sams warns: “You're opening our kids up to a lot of irreversible damage unless you take the insult away from the injury and take the backpack away.”