SAVANNAH, Ga. -- The complaints sound like something you might hear from a bunch of middle-aged, overweight men.
Aching backs. Sore arms, necks and shoulders. Sometimes, chest pain.
But the complainants aren't adults; they're school children, 9 to 18 years old. And their pain is caused by something they take to school every day -- their backpacks.
Fourth grader Ashley Jarriel came home from school last month, in tears because her back hurt. Her pediatrician's diagnosis: Ashley's back was in spasm from her 35-pound backpack.
Around the country, students and parents are increasingly concerned about backpacks.
"It definitely is a problem," said Trish West, a Georgia director for the Parents and Teachers Association. "I know of children with lower back pain. I know one who saw an acupuncturist."
Some doctors are also concerned. Heavy bookbags can cause temporary soreness and back pain, said Dr. Mark A. Winchell, an orthopedic surgeon with South Coast Orthopedic Group.
"The jury's still out on backpacks. There's no clearcut evidence that backpacks cause permanent injury," he said.
Anne Thompson, academic coordinator of Armstrong Atlantic State University's physical therapy program and vice president of the Georgia Chapter of Physical Therapy is concerned the pain could be symptomatic of lifelong back problems.
"There's a concern -- one we won't know about for years," she said. "Does spinal compression of the disks of the back set a child up for injury in the future?"
Richmond Hill, Ga., chiropractor Terri Norburg thinks so.
She's convinced that heavy bookbags can cause curvature of the spine or scoliosis.
Norburg is now working with a program called Backpack Safety America -- offering tips to parents, children and principals on safe ways to carry a backpack.
Winchell and other doctors don't blame scoliosis on backpacks. But there's growing evidence that backpacks can injure children.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission tracks backpack injuries, counting 3,207 injuries in 1996 and 7,277 by 2001.
Choosing a backpack
* Look for wide, padded straps and padded back.
* Get a pack with two shoulder straps. (A single strap doesn't distribute weight evenly.)
* Find a rolling backpack.
Preventing backpack injury:
* Use both shoulder straps.
* Pack light, no more than 10 percent to 20 percent of body weight.
* Place heavy items close to the center of the back; sharp items should point away from the back.
* If your school has lockers, use them.
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