August 29, 1996
Media Contact: Debbie Bangledor
Phone: (410) 223-1731

Here are two "back-to-school" topics from doctors at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center:


Shoulder and low back pain, muscle and neck spasms, and tingling hands may be symptoms a youngster displays if his backpack is too heavy, says Jane Benson, M.D., acting director of pediatric radiology at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

Most backpacks geared for school use are made of lightweight nylon for carrying lightweight loads, she says. "Children and their parents often stack books and other heavy items at the bottom of the backpack, placing lunches and more fragile items on top. The child then slings the whole thing over one shoulder by a thin strap," says Benson. "Uneven and heavy loads can distort posture, causing muscle strain and fatigue."

Benson says that both backpack straps should be heavily padded and used so that weight is equally distributed across the child's back. Heavier items need to be placed near the top of the garment to allow legs to support the additional weight.

An alternative is to use a hiking pack with individual compartments, allowing items inside to be spread evenly.

When loading a child's backpack, how much is too much? Benson says a loaded backpack should not exceed 10 to 15 percent of a child's body weight (i.e., a 45 lb. child's pack should weigh no more than 7 lbs.).

Benson adds, "When in doubt, leave it out!"


Changes like heading off to kindergarten, moving from middle to high school, or going off to college can be unsettling for the whole family. Harold Shinitzky, Psy.D., an instructor in the department of pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center, offers these tips to make the transition easier:

"Parents are the driving force of helping with transition. Keeping open, honest communication can help make a stressful time more manageable," says Shinitzky.

To interview either of these experts, call me at (410) 223-1731 or page me on beeper (410) 283-1109.

-- JHMI --
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