As thousands of children up and down the country return to school after the summer break, few parents consider the rucksacks into which they are packing their weighty books and healthy lunches. Yet, school bags are responsible for a rise in back problems among school-age children.
A child is constantly growing. Putting any restrictions on their growth may lead to them feeling pain in their limbs and joints and could potentially cause damage.
It is generally understood that poor fitting or inappropriate footwear can cause permanent damage to a growing child.
However, we rarely exercise similar caution with the school bags that our children use every day of the week.
School bags: an overlooked problem?
A study carried out by BackCare, a charitable organisation which promotes the better understanding of spinal injuries, discovered that children up and down the UK are experiencing spinal problems due to the sheer weight of their school rucksacks. (1)
By the time the average child in the United Kingdom reaches the age of sixteen, there is a 50:50 chance they have carried a rucksack which is too heavy for them. Every year, up to four million children are walking with bags too heavy for them (which could potentially cause physical damage to their spines).
So, how much should a child carry?
Scientists have calculated the maximum a child should be able to carry around without causing any damage is around 10% of their own body weight. If they carry up to 15% of their bodyweight there is a risk they will develop back problems as they grow older.
In a national bag survey by BackCare, the highest risk group of 11-12 year olds were found to be carrying on average around 13% of their body weight. (And, in some cases, some children were found to be carry up to 60% of their own body weight!) (2)
Obviously, in these cases action is needed – so why is this such a problem?
Well, carrying such a high percentage of one’s body weight over a period of even a very short time will have a detrimental effect. Around 120,000 under-16s consult a health professional for back pain each year.
Furthermore, changes in fashion can cause the problem to worsen.
Backpacks and rucksacks are now more commonly worn on one shoulder only, doubling the loading on one side of the body, and potentially even creating further problems in the child’s neck and hips.
In a report in the Daily Mail highlighting the growing problem of school bags and children’s back health, Dr Peter Skew, a specialist in musculoskeletal medicine, suggested: “We are seeing increasing numbers of young adults coming for treatment in relation to back trouble and this can often be traced back to carrying heavy bags to school.” (3)
Any parent would be concerned to learn of the unseen damage their child’s back could be suffering – so how do you ensure that your child takes everything they need to school without doing themselves harm?
How to prevent back pain
As with much advice, there are a few common sense ways to minimise the risk of your child carrying too much which may potentially lead to back problems.
Speak with your child about their daily requirements for school. For example, they may not need to take so many books in every day, even though they feel they should. They may also have access to lockers at school, which would prevent the need for carting everything around on their backs. This could greatly reduce the amount of weight in your child’s rucksack, preventing them from straining themselves. Judging from our experience they need encouragement to clear out the debris that collects at the bottom of their bag!
Make sure your child is wearing their backpack properly. Heavier books should be stacked at the back, closest to their spine, and the straps should be pulled tightly so the rucksack cannot easily move up and down when your child is wearing it. This ensures any weight your child has to carry will be equally distributed across your child’s entire frame, rather than concentrated on one point which could then become sore.
Keep an eye on your child’s posture. The way a person sits often reveals how their back feels, and many children often do not like to complain about little aches and pains. If they are continuously slouching, or shuffling on their bottom as they sit down, they are probably trying to find a position which is more comfortable. If you see behaviour like this, gently ask them if their back is sore. Sitting with one foot tucked under their bottom can also be a sign to watch out for.
Still concerned about your child’s back health?
If you are concerned your child is suffering from back problems related to carrying their school bag, we can help.
Wokingham Chiropractic Centre is supporting BackCare awareness week 2.10.17 – 7.10.17 by offering free 15 minute appointments where we can assess posture and give advice on carrying safely.
The BackCare appointments are available between 11.30am – 1pm on Saturday 7.10.17 with Krishna.
We’re experienced in dealing with back pain in all ages, but taking action sooner rather than later is key to ensuring there is no permanent damage in young developing bodies. Call us today on 0118 978 7466, we are here to help.
2. Heavy school bags danger for kids – BBC Newsround – www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/18072232
3. Is your child’s school bag harming their spine? – Daily Mail – www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2144429/is-childs-school-bag-harming-spine.html
Copyright: photopiano / 123RF Stock Photo