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How backpacks contribute to back pain and what you can do to prevent it

From kindergarten to high school to our first job or a big trip, we carry our lives in our backpacks..

From kindergarten to high school to our first job or a big trip, we carry our lives in our backpacks. But while theyre meant for carrying everything we might need, too often, we include things we dont. Over time, the strain caused by these items can lead to problems with the spine, and a new study illustrates just how easily it can happen.

Carrying excessive weight in a backpack can cause wear-and-tear on the joints, ligaments, and muscles across the entire back and in the hips. Oftentimes, these body parts work to compensate for the extra weight, but because they cannot sustain that strength for an extended period of time, they begin to degenerate, which can cause stiffness, a loss of range of motion and pain. These effects can spread to other parts of the body as other muscles work to compensate for the strain.

This gradual degeneration can lead to chronic back pain, compressed discs in the spine (herniated discs), neck pain, an altered posture and gait and even pain in the feet, according to Dr. Kenneth Hansraj, lead author of the study and a spinal and orthopedic surgeon at the New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine Center.

“People everywhere have struggled to assess the impact of objects in a backpack to the body in general, and the spine in particular,” Hansraj said in a press release.

Hansrajs study used a computer model to determine the amount of stress thats put on a spine when its made to carry a backpack ranging in weight from 1 to 100 pounds — a range the study noted can include everything from school books to hiking gear.

Based on the model, Hansraj and his colleagues found that the amount of force placed on a spine in a neutral position is about 7.2 times the weight of the backpack. If the spine is slumped forward about 20 degrees, the amount of force increases to 11.6 times the weight of the bag.

The reason the backpack causes so much strain? Even in a neutral position, the spine is not totally straight — its somewhat S-shaped if you look at it sideways. So, even though from the outside the backpack may seem like it only pulls downward, inside the spine, the weight causes different pressure forces depending on where on the spine its hitting.

The study was based on a “physiologically accurate” simulation of the human spine, so its unclear how much of the data can be applied to actual people. However, based on the analysis, a 50-pound child who is carrying a 5 pound backpack would be putting about 36 pounds of pressure on their spine if it was in a neutral position. If they were slumped forward 20 degrees, the bag would put more pressure on their spine than they weighed — 58 pounds.

The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that children should never carry a backpack weighing more than 10 to 20 percent of their body weight. In the press release, Hansraj goes further, citing previous studies, to say that for young adults, backpacks shouldnt be over 13 to 15 percent of their body weight and for college-aged adults, 15 to 20 percent of their body weight.

While the above might be the best way to prevent injuries and longer-term musculoskeletal problems, here are some other easy ways to carry your bag safely:

• Pay attention to proper posture: Keep your ears above your shoulder, your shoulders back, your chest open, and make sure your back stays straight.

• Lift your bag up from the ground by bending your knee. Dont just bend over, as this will put more strain on the lower back.

• Pack only what is necessary.

• Wear and tighten both straps of the backpack to distribute weight evenly.

• Use a waist or chest strap if your backpack has one.

• Pack heavier items closer to the center of the back.

• Use digital textbooks if your school has them.

• Use lockers or available storage space at work or school to avoid carrying everything at once.

• Make multiple trips if you have to carry several heavy objects.

If you are already experiencing pain and you think its from carrying a heavy backpack, see a doctor as soon as possible.

Dr. Tiffany Yeh completed pediatrics residency at Brown University, and is currently an endocrinology fellow at New York-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center and a member of the ABC News Medical Unit.

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The organization helping to bring new drugs for rare diseases to market

A research team has reason to celebrate after the Food and Drug Administration granted it approval o..

A research team has reason to celebrate after the Food and Drug Administration granted it approval on Friday to begin a clinical trial for a new pediatric brain cancer drug, one that might have ended up overlooked by pharmaceutical companies.

The lead researcher on the team, Dr. Teresa Purzner has already beat impossible odds. The neurosurgeon and mom of three managed to get the approval in record time and with little money thanks to the help of a team of scientific altruists called SPARK.

The development of new medications in the United States is driven by pharmaceutical companies; researchers at universities rarely bring their discoveries to the bedside. For every 10,000 potential new medicines sitting on laboratory shelves around the country, only one will ever reach patients in need, according to the National Institutes of Health. Why? Because the process can take 10 to 15 years, costing upwards of a billion dollars per drug.

As a result, the number of new medications approved by the FDA has remained stagnant at about 31 per year over the past 10 years. The majority of these medications are similar to already existing ones, and many target diseases for which there are large markets — like hypertension and high cholesterol — and therefore, a return on investment.

Enter SPARK, a non-profit program created in partnership between Stanford University and volunteers from the biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and investment industries, which helps academic researchers bring their discoveries to patients. Since its founding, SPARK has given special consideration to projects typically neglected by pharmaceutical companies, including rare diseases and diseases affecting children.

Purzner put her neurosurgery practice on pause to study medulloblastoma, a type of childhood brain cancer. Compared to diseases like hypertension and high cholesterol, which affect millions of Americans, medulloblastoma is rare, affecting only 250 to 500 children every year.

“Theres something especially poignant about seeing children —beautiful, wonderful, innocent things — and seeing the impact of the therapies we are giving them. The medications, the radiation therapies impact their cognition, their quality of life and their ability to function as independent adults in the future,” Purzner said in an interview with ABC News.

Purzner had a clear goal: to find a targeted therapy that could shut down the basic biochemical pathway responsible for the development of this cancer, and she did. She tested the potential drug in mice with good results, and she just received FDA approval to test it in clinical trials, which she will do through the Pediatric Brain Tumor Consortium. She did it all in five years and for a price tag of $500,000.

“To get from my initial findings in the lab to the point where the Pediatric Brain Tumor Consortium picked it up for clinical trials would have never happened without the help of SPARK… they gave me a clear pathway and made me believe it was possible,” said Purzner.

Every year, SPARK provides 10 teams with funding and expert mentorship to promote efficient and cost-effective drug development. (more…)

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Widowed father works with congresswoman on legislation to prevent maternal deaths

Sitting in the hospital room, mother and newborn baby were sound asleep.

“I was overjoyed. I reme..

Sitting in the hospital room, mother and newborn baby were sound asleep.

"I was overjoyed. I remember thinking my family is complete," Charles Johnson told ABC News.

But then he looked down and saw his wife Kiras catheter turn pink and then red with blood.

April 12, 2016 was supposed to be a joyous day for the Johnson family, but it turned into a "nightmare."

Ten hours later, Kira Johnson died as a result of internal bleeding following a cesarean section.

Now, two years later, Johnson is raising two children on his own and advocating to rectify the country's maternal health policies and regulations to prevent anyone else from sharing the same tragedy. Johnson took to Capitol Hill to share his wife's story before members of Congress, working alongside a congresswoman who experienced her own personal difficulties during pregnancy.

Charles and Kira Johnson welcomed their first son Charles V. in 2014. He was delivered via C-section. Two years later, the Johnson family relocated from Atlanta to Los Angeles and learned they were expecting their second baby boy.

"Kira and I had always wanted two boys," Johnson said. "I was excited."

The Johnsons decided to have Langston delivered at Cedars Sinai medical center, a non-profit hospital that is currently ranked as the eighth best hospital in the country by U.S. News and World Report.

Charles Johnson said his wife was in exceptional health and that she took all the necessary prenatal measures to ensure their second child would be born healthy. Since their first son was born via C-section, the doctor suggested the same for their second. (more…)

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States look to breathalyze convicted drunk drivers to reduce fatalities

This story is from Kaiser Health News

On Jan. 1, California joined the majority of states that ha..

This story is from Kaiser Health News

On Jan. 1, California joined the majority of states that have laws requiring drivers with drunken-driving convictions to install breathalyzers in vehicles they own or operate.

Researchers, public health advocates and political leaders believe these laws are helping reduce alcohol-related road deaths.

The gadgets, known as ignition interlock devices, are mounted on the steering wheel of a vehicle and prevent it from starting if the drivers blood-alcohol reading is above a predetermined level.

In California, the breathalyzers are mandatory only for repeat offenders. Five other states — Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Montana and Ohio — have similar laws. Thirty-two states and D.C. require the devices even for first-time offenders.

The advent of such laws across the United States in the past 15 years has been accompanied by some good news: Deaths involving drunken driving are only about half of what they were in the early 1980s, though they have ticked back up in recent years. The long-term decline is largely attributable to greater public awareness, stricter seat belt enforcement and the establishment in 2000 of a nationwide legal blood-alcohol threshold of 0.08 percent — far below the 0.15 percent standard commonly used before then.

State Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), the author of the California law, said breathalyzers in cars will make roads safer than under the current law, which generally relies on license restrictions and suspensions.

“Weve seen people on a suspended license continue to drive and continue to cause destruction,” said Hill, who lost his best friend to drunken driving in the 1980s.

There is some evidence that the breathalyzers have an impact. Nationally, from 2006 to 2016, ignition-locking breathalyzers prevented 2.3 million attempts to drive by people with a blood-alcohol level at or above 0.08 percent — the legal threshold for driving under the influence — according to a 2017 report by the advocacy group Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Emma McGinty, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, found that laws requiring interlocks for all DUI offenders were associated with a 7 percent drop in the rate of fatal crashes caused by drunken drivers. Another study found that laws covering all offenders were associated with 15 percent fewer alcohol-related fatalities compared with states that have less stringent laws. (more…)

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