Are heavy school bags damaging your child’s health?

back packMy son started preschool in 2011, and rather ironically the theme of Back Care Awareness Week for that year was focused on the health implications of small bodies carrying heavy school bags. On my daily walk to school I was quite shocked to see several small bodies carrying enormous school bags crammed full of books and water bottles! Whilst I know, many of you might have read this article back in 2011; I wanted to highlight the importance of looking after our young ones and their bodies.

It is a rather distressing fact that more and more children present to Osteopathic clinics or GP surgeries with back pain and neck and shoulder pain. Heavy bags can put pressure on the discs between the vertebrae which can cause long term back pain in small and still-developing bodies, and children can suffer muscular pain, headaches, tingling and numbness in the arms and legs and even mobility problems. Children should never carry more than about 15% of their own body weight.

Parents can help by packing their children’s rucksacks and making sure that the heavier items are nearer to the child’s back. Heavier items on the outside of the bag tend to throw out the child’s centre of gravity out of balance, which leads to bad posture and increases the chances of them straining their back.

Other helpful tips:

  • A backpack is usually more comfortable than a bag that puts strain on only one shoulder, but even a backpack shouldn’t be overloaded.
  • When buying a bag, buy a sturdy, well-designed bag with wide, padded shoulder straps that reduces pressure on the neck and shoulder area. Buy a bag with adjustable straps which can be altered as the child grows.
  • Check your child’s posture after he has put the bag on. If you notice your child leaning forward or slouching, check if the bag is too heavy or if it has been packed incorrectly.
  • Make sure your child is only carrying the items they need for school that day – remove any unnecessary books and equipment
  • An increase of and more use of permanent child lockers for storing equipment or books that can be left at school.

The long term effects from carrying heavy bags include strains on the neck and shoulder leading to headaches, fatigue and an early development of poor posture along with strain to arms and wrists.

Another challenge to children’s health, and one which is specifically an issue for girls, are shoes in the form of high heels and flat pumps. Wearing high heels (anything over 2”) is especially stressful on the joints of the foot because the whole weight of the body is forced into a narrow, pointed area. High heels can contribute to knee and back problems because of the way wearers are forced to pay attention to their balance and to take shorter strides. Heels also force the thigh muscles to work harder, putting extra strain on the knee joints and tendon that runs from the knee cap to the thigh bone. Compared with walking barefoot, high heels increase the pressure on the inside of the knee by around 26 percent and over time this increased pressure on the knee can lead to osteoarthritis.

In conclusion, as with most things, moderation is the key here. Wearing the same type of shoe all the time can force your foot into an unnatural position. Flat shoes are usually easier on your feet than heels, but with no shock absorbency and little heel support, there is a risk of developing a painful condition called plantar fasciitis (pain on the soles of your feet) and calcaneal bursitis (pain under your heel). The answer is to change your style of shoes regularly and avoid the extremes – don’t wear heels that are too high or shoes that are too flat.

Remember to look after your child’s health now as they will be the ones looking after you later in life! 🙂

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