Hefty school bags hauled around by today’s kids could mean back trouble for tomorrow’s adults. Swati Basu Das looks at how to take the weight off your children’s shoulders, and a load off your mind.
Weighty, heavy and often a struggle, schoolbags carried over the shoulder might look ‘happening hipster’ but could actually be bad for your child’s health.
Available in every shape, size and colour, the humble schoolbag can pose a threat to the backbones of children, experts say.
While slouching over a screen is poor for posture, heavy bags can affect spinal health during the developmental years.
Orthapaedic departments in the Sultanate have noted the problem, and doctors are keen to labour the point.
In fact, an average teenager’s schoolbag or rucksack is packed to the gills, leading him or her to often bend slightly when they walk.
When the pupil reaches school, the chances are that he or she will slouch in front of a desk or computer screen for the best part of the day.
This habit – bad posture – can result in upper back pain and frequent headaches.
The trendiest of backpacks can contribute to long-term muscle strains, disfiguring curvatures and other spinal abnormalities; experts say.
Children’s spinal health – traditionally not considered a serious health issue – is now a matter for concern. School bags with impressive designs may cling perfectly onto the child’s shoulder but they can bear a load heavier than your child should have to carry.
Dr. Rajagopal T.N, a specialist orthopaedic surgeon at NMC Speciality Hospital, Al Gubhra, says: “Undoubtedly, schoolbags weigh more than a child can handle. It is one of the reasons for back pain and is an increasing issue among school-going children, along with their sitting habits on the sofa or at the dining table. The word ‘spondylosis’ doesn’t come as a surprise to any high school student.”
Cases of children suffering from lower back pain are sometimes coupled with knee problems and recurrent headaches. The cause for these ailments could be the schoolbags, which can have a capacity of up to 30 litres.
Dr. Baby Sam Samuel Kutty, Chairman, BOD, Indian Schools in Oman, says: “In the past decade or two as the curricula evolved, there has been an increased number of books. It is, unfortunately, resulting in heavier school bags.
“Children also carry items beyond the timetables. Heavy bags that are ergonomically unsuitable for the height and weight of a child adversely affect him/her. This creates undue pressure on the back and spine disrupting the posture.”
The doctors say bulky bags damage the muscle of the upper shoulder affecting the healthy development of a child.
Dr. Rajagopal says: “Carrying heavy bags strain the entire vertebral column. Poor posture alignment leads to lower back, shoulder, and neck pain. Carrying such bags makes a child tilt the trunk forward, which is when they develop a forward head posture.
“A typical backpack syndrome with a slight to sometimes severe deformity in body posture causes cervical and lumbar pain along with fatigue and headaches.”
Children more often overlook the initial symptoms. They may not even experience immediate pain, but there are high chances of long-term effects that in future contribute to spine injuries simultaneously affecting the nervous system.
Dr Rajagobal adds: “Medically, the recommended weight of a school backpack should never exceed 10 per cent of the child’s body weight. Children carrying bags greater than this mentioned proportion are at a higher risk of developing asymmetrical gait pain. The asymmetric loading of intervertebral discs can lead to degenerative changes in the spine.”
Whether ignorantly or consciously, school pupils are steadily crumbling under the weight and dragging the effects of this into their future.
Dr. Rajagopal says: “There are at least two to three cases every week. The ramifications of getting back pain at such a young age could escalate potentially. A misaligned spine also results in lowered brain performance due to poor impulses, which is otherwise essential for us to excel in our field of work.”
“The possible solution starts by reducing the weight and constantly educating kids on better posture that will enrich their overall health.”
Dr. Baby Sam Samuel Kutty says: “As an educational system, we have been trying various ways, within our limitations to reduce this load on children.”
Here are a few tips to help prevent posture problems:
• Embrace the right posture: Get your child to stop slouching. Include a daily dose of exercises and sporting activities. Make sure your remind them to sit up straight and stand upright.
• Squat to lift: Avoid bending from the back to lift the bag. Advice your child to squat and lift the school bag to avoid disc injuries.
• Unload unnecessary items: Keep the bag as light as possible to ensure the child doesn’t slouch forward to carry it.
• Distribute the weight: Wear the bag on both the shoulders. Tie the waist belt for an even distribution of weight. Make sure the straps are padded and 5cm thick.
Team Y says: “This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please seek the advice of a medical expert if you have any questions regarding a health issue.”