Posture is a bigger concern  than most think. With growing workload for school children, the weight of this issue  is increasing every day. Carrying heavy weighted and oversized school bags full of heavy books can cause young children to develop serious spinal deformities. Children carrying heavy school bags are developing forward head posture as they are hinging forward at the hips to compensate for the heavy weight on their back. This strains the muscles and in turn pushes the body to go into an unnatural posture alignment and also causes low back pain. While children might not show symptoms or experience pain straightaway, in the long term they are developing imbalances in the body which can affect the health of the nervous system. It cannot only affect a child in the present but also have long-term effects on their body and render their spine vulnerable to injuries. Therefore the solutions can  be either to decrease their workload, that is, the weight of their backpack, orto constantly guide them to a better posture for the betterment of their spinal shape and thus their health. The Indian state of Maharashtra which has now imposed a regulation that school children are not allowed  to carry school bags that exceed 10% of their body weight. That means a child who weighs 50 kgs' bag should be 5 kg and no more. They should also encourage their children to be more active in order to strengthen the spine and have them checked out by a physiotherapist on a regular basis.” Heavy school bags are believed to be a contributing factor to skeletal symptoms and represent an overlooked daily stress for schoolchildren.The musculoskeletal pain and discomfort from backpacks is multifactorial. It’s about the combined effects of the heavy  weight of them but also the load shape and size and the time spent carrying the load. It’s also related to how the load is positioned on the body. 

The Dublin study found that 65% of discomfort was reported in the shoulders, not surprisingly as the popular method of carriage is a backpack style bag with carriage on the back with two straps over the shoulders. There was a reported 30% discomfort in the back.

 Why should school children’s backpacks not exceed more than 10% of their body weight?

When a backpack is too heavy the body will have to compensate by tilting forward to counter the effects of gravity. This will alter the alignment of the child’s posture and increase the strain on the spine. The weight of the backpack may also damage the muscles of the upper shoulders due to compression.  

What are the short term effects?

 Initial effects include spinal stress and possible pain and discomfort. Damage to the tissues is not always accompanied by conscious pain though which means it can go unnoticed.

 What are the long term effects?

In the long term they may develop imbalances in the postural alignment, which can affect the health of the nervous system. When the alignment of the spine is imbalanced the communication between the brain and the body is negatively affected.

What effect does spinal health have on the brain performance?

Proper alignment and movement of the spine is absolutely essential to brain health.Impulses created by spinal movement charge the brain like a battery. This is why people fell energized after exercise and tired after sitting all day.If the spine becomes stiff or misaligned the brain will become deficient in the essential impulses resulting in lowered brain and body performance.

What are some of the solutions to address this issue?

Children must use quality backpacks and keep them as light as possible. They must always be worn over both shoulders. Parents should have their children’s spine and postures assessed by a professional to ensure that there are no imbalances that they are unaware of. Children must stay as active as possible and take regular breaks form sitting to ensure that the spinal supporting muscles are strong and the brain receives the healthy messages from spinal movement.Advice to parents to ensure that their children do not develop forward head posture: The first step is to get your children checked regularly. Spinal problems are similar to tooth decay in that they can develop slowly without any conscious symptoms.Teach your children that movement is a required raw material for health and encourage as much physical activity as possible.The over-use of tablets and smart  phones is a severe stressor that needs to be addressed. If you feel that the backpacks are too heavy communicate with the teachers to see if there is a solution.

So what can you do about it?

To some degree it’s about helping your kid get organised. What you want to do is lower that backpack weight to body weight index. This means is making sure they are only taking the books they need to, to school, leaving books in their lockersor classroom during the day and only carting the ones home they need for homework. Sure it’s easy just to jam all the books in at once, but with some careful planning you can start to chip away at some of the excess weight.

 How you carry your backpack and they type of backpack you use are all important too

Here’s a basic list of how to.Back packs should be ideally no heavier than 10% of a student’s weight when packed.

  • Make sure the backpack is sturdy and appropriately sized – no wider than the student’s chest Choose a backpack with broad, padded shoulder straps .
  • Use both shoulder straps – never sling the pack over one shoulder.
  • The straps should be shortened until the bottom of the backpack is just above the child’s waist, and not sitting on their buttocks.
  • When the straps are shortened to this level, the backpack should lie flat on the child’s back.Use waist straps.
  • Don’t overload the backpack – use school lockers and plan homework well in advance 
  • Place all heavy items at the base of the pack, close to the spine, for a better distribution of the weight 
  • Physiotherapist have been helping manage and address the musculoskeletal discomfort that comes from carrying heavy backpacks in kids.Heavy backpacks combined with prolonged periods of sitting and the use of technical devices such and smart phones and tablets are all adding to the increasing load seen in our clinics today. 
  • Physiotherapist are well suited to perform these checks having an excellent understanding of posture and necessary function of the spine in-order to have greater health.