As thousands of students start the school year, physiotherapist Hina Chauhan discusses why heavy backpacks can be detrimental to young developing bodies.
What sort of problems can school bags cause?
When packed and worn correctly school bags pose no serious harm however, overloaded backpacks can cause a large range of problems ranging from neck and shoulder pain, low back pain, headaches, or pins and needles and numbness in the arms. Long-term exposure to bag overloading and poor posture can cause structural changes in the spine identified by rounding of the shoulders and the upper back, which can lead to degenerative change.
Why does this happen?
The primary problem is that school bags are too heavy and are often worn incorrectly. It is recommended that school bags shouldn’t exceed more than 10% of a child’s bodyweight, however recent studies have shown that over two thirds of school-aged kids exceed this amount!
Often, we are victims to fashion. It just doesn’t seem cool to wear your bag correctly. Many children wear their bags slung over one shoulder or with their straps too long so that the bag sits far too low.
What should parents look for when buying a backpack?
Fit the bag to the child.
Size & shape:
Avoid bags that extend higher than the shoulders, opt for a broader style with a contoured shape that fits snuggly on the spine.
Look for bags that distribute the weight well, with broad, well-cushioned, adjustable Chest straps are also useful.
The biggest feature to look out for is a bag with compartments that allows you to pack the heaviest items closest to the spine. Bags with large voids aren’t recommended as the contents moves around, redistributing weight.
How do you treat back or shoulder problems caused by school bags?
As always, prevention is better than cure so I encourage everyone to empty their bags every night and only repack the items necessary for the next day, with the heaviest items closest to the spine. Focus on wearing the backpack correctly, with the straps tight, and the backpack close to the spine.
If this isn’t enough to alleviate the pain, physiotherapists treat ‘bag’ pain just like any other physical injury – with a thorough assessment, accurate diagnosis and therapy targeted at the specific causes involved. Education will also play an important role, considering some instruction on bag ergonomics will form part of the discussion.
Written by Hina Chauhan