School term has started again and with it the topical debate of school bags and are they giving children bad backs.
In a nutshell, the debate revolves around the weight of school bags, and how they are carried. Research suggests that a child’s bag should not be more than 10% of their body weight. If it is heavier than this, posture will be compromised and lean forward to compensate for the weight. In doing so, weight is not being transferred through the body as designed, but rather forward of it, causing postural muscles to work overtime.
If there’s one thing worse than carrying a heavy bag on your back over two shoulders, its carrying it on one shoulder. Not only will you lean forward to compensate, but also to the side. In summary, simple tips to follow are:
1) Keep the weight down!
2) Carry the bag close to the body, in contact with the mid and upper back. Allowing it to sag backwards actually increases the effective load being carried. A simple way to illustrate this concept is to take something like a bag of sugar and hold it close to your body for a minute. Easy. Now hold it out in front of you for a minute. Not so easy!
3) Don’t carry your bag on one shoulder as it will cause you to compensate your weight to the other side, putting strain on the back, shoulder and neck.
Obviously the amount of time spent carrying a bag will depend on circumstances, and most likely be determined by how far the walk to and from school is. In reality carrying a bag is not likely to amount to much more than an hour of each day. Is this likely to cause back pain or neck pain? Well, possibly.
But there are other factors as important, and arguably more important when assessing the health of children’s backs nowadays. Think about how many hours they spend sitting at school in a slouched position. Or on phones, sitting on their bed doing homework or at games consoles……in a slouched position. The time spent doing this can amount to 6-8 hours each day, and although not carrying any extra weight, the mechanical strain on the lower back and neck of poor posture takes its toll on the strength and stability of the spine. Think about the bag of sugar concept again. The strain on your shoulder when held away from the body is just like the strain on your back and neck when the head and shoulders are forward.
In addition, research (cited in API 2016) to suggest that children suffering back and neck pain have a lower performance at school.
So if children are complaining of pain, even if it is worse when carrying a bag, think about the bigger picture also. How do they sit all day, and if slouching, think about the stress this causes to the joints and muscles of the body that all too often lead to pain and discomfort.