Bags of burden
The load of a school bag coupled with faulty ways of carrying it is having a negative impact on children, resulting in back or shoulder pain
Dr Rajeev K. Sharma

Most children carry school bags that weigh more than 10 per cent of their body weight
Most children carry school bags that weigh more than 10 per cent of their body weight

it can be a disconcerting sight —an eight-year-old carrying a bag heavy enough to tire her mother. Yet, today the weight of school bags has ceased to bother us. This heavy load can have a negative impact on a child's health, particularly if it is putting an uneven burden on her/his back and shoulders. It can cause back pain, spine misalignment or strain injury of the neck.

Some schoolchildren today are suffering from orthopaedic problems stemming from the health hazards of heavy school bags. Do not let your child sling a heavy bag across just one shoulder, make sure she carries it on both shoulders and puts an even strain on both sides.

A study, conducted in Spain, and published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood in 2012 revealed some startling facts. Out of 1,400 schoolchildren surveyed, one- fourth suffered from back pain, resulting mostly from the problem of curvature of the spine.

The same study found that almost two-thirds of the children carried rucksacks to school that weighed more than 10 per cent of their own body weight. A similar study has not been conducted in India, but a similar trend is certainly prevailing.

Let's take a look at the threats your child may face from school bags. Shoulder: Carrying a heavy or uneven school bag leads to an imbalance in posture. Due to constant load and pressure the muscles and nerves near the neck are severely strained. If proper care is not taken it can lead to various orthopaedic problems. If the bag is carried on one shoulder, it will not only strain one side of the spinal nerves but also increase the burden of the bag. This is why it is always recommended that the weight of a bag/backpack be carried equally by both shoulders. It makes it easier to carry and even easier to walk with the load when it is shared on both the shoulders.

Back: If your child keeps on carrying heavy school bags, especially for long hours and long distances, the soft tissues will end up with injuries or posture problems. Carrying bags weighing more than 2 kg on a regular basis can result in muscle pain and spine problems.

Neck: When the school bags are heavy, the neck naturally leans away from the load, this causes tension on the carrying side of the neck and compression on the opposite side of the weight. This again stresses the nerves around the neck by causing posture problems.

Legs: Carrying a heavy bag will make your child walk differently and the changed forces act through the skeletal system. Wrong walking may cause strain on the wrong areas and will contribute to the problem.

Carry it right: A weight of up to 1.8 kg when carried in a balanced way will be fine for your child. The lesser it is the better. More importantly, the bag you buy for your child should be with a two-shoulder strap. Guide your child to use both of them every time to balance the weight. This will lead to proper weight distribution on neck, shoulder and back.

Schools should also be sensitised and encouraged to allow children use drawers in school. This will enable them keep some of the load permanently in school and not carry it everyday in and out.

More importantly, never ignore if a child complains of backache or pain in the neck or shoulder. It might not be just another muscular pain. It may have long-term implications and cause serious problems to the child. Adults in India, living in the computer generation, are already reeling under an orthopaedic crisis resulting from poor sitting postures, constant strain on the neck and lack of physical exercise. If our children too grow up with orthopaedic problems, it will have devastating effects on the health of our country.

— The writer is a leading orthopedic specialist and joint replacement surgeon at Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals