For Your Health

Ergonomic Evaluation Article in USA Today

Improper Use of Backpacks Leads to Chronic Back Pain

Backpacks have made it easy for many Americans to throw in everything but the kitchen sink without realizing they could be throwing out their backs. Millions of students are racing to the school bus or scurrying to their classes with overstuffed backpacks slung over one shoulder. At the same time, more adults have opted for lugging a backpack, rather than a briefcase, to and from the office. While carrying a backpack might seem harmless enough, it can cause some painful back and neck problems for people who don`t pack or carry their backpacks properly.

Back pain is pervasive in our society. Eighty percent of all Americans will suffer from it at some point in their lives, and 50 percent of us will suffer from low-back pain this year alone. Much of this suffering is brought on by bad habits initiated during our younger years---such as carrying overweight backpacks to school

A recent survey by Land`s End Direct Merchants found that more than 96 percent of children ages 8 to 12 will carry a backpack to school this year. Of those, nearly one-third will carry their backpack improperly.

Similarly, a recent study conducted in Italy found that he average child carries a backpack that would be the equivalent of a 39-pound backpack for a 176-pound man, or a 29-pound backpack for a 132-pound woman.

What Can You Do?

The American Chiropractic Association offers the following tips to parents to help prevent the needless pain that backpack misuse could cause the students in your household. (And, now that backpacks have begun replacing briefcases in the work place, you, too, might want to follow this advice):

Make sure your child`s backpack weighs no more than 5 to 10 percent of his or her body weight. If the backpack is heavier, it will cause your child to begin bending forward in an attempt to support the weight on his or her back, rather than on the shoulders, by the straps.

The position of the backpack is important. The backpack should never hang more than four inches below the waistline. A backpack that hangs too low increases the weight on the shoulders, causing your child to lean forward when walking.

A backpack with individualized compartments helps in positioning the contents most effectively. When packing the backpack, make sure that pointed or bulky objects are packed away from the area that will rest on your child`s back. An uneven surface rubbing against the back could cause painful blisters.

Keep in mind that bigger is not necessarily better. Parents should buy the best-designed backpack possible for their child. The more room there is in a backpack, the more your child will carry and the heavier the backpack will be.

It is important that your child wear both shoulder straps. Lugging the backpack around by one shoulder strap can cause the disproportionate shift of weight to one side, leading to neck and muscle spasms, as well as low-back pain.

Padded straps are very important. Non-padded straps are uncomfortable, and can dig into your child`s shoulders.

The shoulder straps should also be adjustable so the backpack can be fitted to your child`s body. Shoulder straps that are too loose can cause the backpack to dangle uncomfortably and cause spinal misalignment and pain.

If the backpack is still too heavy, talk to your child`s teacher. It might be possible for your child to leave the heaviest books at school, and bring home only lighter handout materials or workbooks.

If your child continues to complain about back pain, consider an alternative to traditional backpacks on wheels. More parents and children are realizing the benefits of this safer way to transport books and other necessities to and from school.

Talk to your child about the proper use of backpacks and help him or her understand why this and other ergonomic issues are important. A child who is educated early in life on the importance of ergonomics can apply this knowledge later in life- at home or in the office- and will be happier and healthier as a result.

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Chiropractic Care Can Help...

If you or your child experiences any pain or discomfort resulting from backpack misuse, call your doctor of chiropractic. Doctors of chiropractic are licensed and trained to diagnose and treat patients of all ages and will use a gentler type of treatment for children. In addition, doctors of chiropractic an also prescribe exercises designed to help children develop strong muscles, along with instruction in good nutrition, posture and sleeping habits.

Pulling weeds

Pulling Weeds, Not Muscles, Is the Way to Garden Fitness

Many homeowners trade in their treadmills this time of year for exercise of the garden variety. The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) says bending, reaching and digging in the garden can provide a great workout, but can cause muscle injury if precautions are not taken.

"A warm-up and cool-down period is just as important for gardening or doing yard work as it is for any other athletic activity," says Dr. J. Michael Flynn, ACAs Chairman of the Board. "Stretching during those periods is essential to prevent injuries, pain and stiffness."

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Stress-Free Stretches

Before stretching for any activity, there are a few tips to keep in mind. Breathe in and out slowly throughout stretching exercises; stretch gently and smoothly, do not bounce or jerk your body in any way; and stretch as far as you can comfortably. You should not feel pain. Following are a few easy stretches Dr. Flynn recommends to get the most out of your gardening workout:

Stand up and prop your heel on a back door step or stool with your knee straight. Bend forward until you feel a slight pull in the muscle at the back of the thigh, called the hamstring. You may need to stabilize yourself by holding onto a garage door handle or sturdy tree branch. Hold the position for 20 seconds, then relax. Do it once more, then repeat with the other leg.

Stand up and put your right hand against a wall or other stable surface. Bend you left knee and grab your ankle with you left hand. Pull you heel toward your buttocks to stretch the quadricep muscles at the front of your thigh. Hold that position for 20 seconds, relax and do it again. Repeat with the other leg.

Weave your fingers together above your head with your palms up. Lean to one side for 10 seconds to stretch the upper body, then reverse. Repeat two or three times.

"Hug your best friend:" Wrap your arms around yourself and rotate to one side, as far as you can go. Hold it for 10 seconds. Then reverse. Repeat two or three times.

There are many more stretching techniques that can enhance all of your physical activities. Look for stretching guides in your local bookstore. Finally, be aware of your bodys form while working in the yard. Kneel, do not bend. Alternate your stance and motion as often as possible to balance the muscles used.

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When the Damage is Done

If you are already feeling the aches and pains of gardening, there are ways to alleviate the pain: apply a cold pack during the first 48 hours of symptoms or a heat pack after 48 hours; but if pain persists, consider visiting a chiropractor. Studies show that chiropractic care is more effective than traditional medical treatments for low-back pain in particular. "Doctors of chiropractic are trained to identify the problem and manipulate your spine to encourage the body’s natural healing process," says Dr. Flynn. "More than 30 million Americans used chiropractic last year for these kinds of problems."

Chiropractic Care Can Help

Talk to your doctor of chiropractic about other ways to improve your lifestyle. Doctors of chiropractic are trained and licensed to treat the entire neuromusculoskeletal system and can help people lead healthier lives by focusing on wellness and prevention.

Ergonomic Evaluation by USA Today