Back to School Back AchesBackpack, books, binders, paper, pencils, erasers, pens, marking pens, tablet pc, earbuds, flash drive... Is packing supplies for school a risk to my child’s health? Is personal device overuse a risk to us all?

K-12 student faces physical challenges not only from using learning technology but even from carrying it. When is too much of a good thing too much? According to an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, over 14,000 children are treated annually for back injuries from heavy backpacks. In a Dublin study of nearly 600 students, 70% carried backpack loads greater than the 10% of student body weight limit recommended by the American Occupational Therapy Association.

The Dublin study suggested that overloaded backs exacerbate severe problems for children already suffering from back ailments such as scoliosis. The degree of those type of problems is compounded by the distance and duration the child has to carry the backpack. The study also indicates that girls seem to be affected by the weight of backpacks more than boys, particularly when it comes to discomfort in the shoulders.

The American Occupational Therapy Association guidelines for children's backpacks call for:

1. Limiting backpack load to 10% or less of the child's body weight

2. Following the backpack manufacturer recommendations for adjusting all straps and pads

3. Purchasing only better quality backpacks that feature padded wide double shoulder straps and a supporting middle back strap.

Can learning technology spare students from the burden of the heavy backpacks? Some schools are attempting to solve the problem by replacing multiple heavy textbooks with tablet PC’s or iPads. But in doing so, did they trade backaches for neck aches and eye strain? That question was raised recently in Australia.

In a report conducted by Western Australia University 45 % of school children between ages two and eight spend over two hours a day in front of tablet PC’s. 80 % of students between ages 12 and 18 spend over two hours a day with their tablets. Younger K-6 children take to using tablet PC’s and iPads like ducks to water. They are more readily drawn to visual learning than through text reading. While the children are more likely to complete assignments using the electronic devices, pediatricians worry that children will regress in motor skills such as handwriting and text reading.

Dr. Kristie Goodwin of Macquarie University worries that much exposure to digital screens can disrupt the sleep patterns of young students.#4 Dr. Goodwin champions the use of tablet PC’s in the classroom, but adds that “Like anything else, too much of a good thing isn’t helpful”. Dr. Goodwin stresses that teachers must be trained how to use tablet PC’s in the classroom including how much usage is acceptable. The Australian Academy of Health believes that two hours of exposure to digital devices per day should be the limit for children over age eight.

Digital aches and pains are not limited to tablet PC student users. “Text Neck" has reached epidemic levels for all digital device users: young and old. #5 The human head weighs about a dozen pounds. But as the neck bends forward and down, the weight on the cervical spine begins to increase. At a 15-degree angle, this weight is about 27 pounds, at 30 degrees it’s 40 pounds, at 45 degrees it’s 49 pounds, and at 60 degrees it’s 60 pounds, according to Dr. Ken Hansraj, a spinal and orthopedic surgeon in Poughkeepsie, New York, in the National Library of Medicine. This “text neck” posture can lead to early deterioration of the spine, spinal degeneration and eventually require neurosurgery.

Per Dr Hansraj: “While it is nearly impossible to avoid the technologies that cause these issues, individuals should make an effort to look at their phones with a neutral spine and to avoid spending hours each day hunched over,” according to the research. Dr. Hansraj gave personal device users tips to avoid pain:

Look down at your device with your eyes. No need to bend your neck.

Exercise: Move your head from left to right several times. Use your hands to provide resistance and push your head against them, first forward and then backward. Stand in a doorway with your arms extended and push your chest forward to strengthen “the muscles of good posture,” Hansraj said.

We all love our personal communication devices and just can't get by without them. So, here is what we can take away from this. Students, teachers, and parents: learn the proper procedures for use of school backpacks, tablet PC’s and other personal devices. If it hurts, you’re probably doing something wrong. Lastly, we could all improve our lives by adhering to that two hour personal device limit suggested by the Australian Academy of Health. Love your device, but know when too much is too much.