School Bag Injuries In Children: What You Need To Know
An average school bag weighs anything between 6 to 12 kilograms. Carrying such heavy weights can cause serious back injuries in children. Read on to know more.
By Monali Bordoloi
Despite a 2016 Bombay High Court order to reduce the weight of school bags, children lugging heavy bags every day are a common sight in every Indian city. The court observed that these could cause serious back injuries in children. Concerned about this, the Maharashtra government has come up with a regulation that school bags should not exceed 10 per cent of the body weightof a student.
Majority of school children, who complain of pain and discomfort from carrying heavy backpacks, are in the age group of 10–15 years. Studies state that 60 per cent of students below the age of 10 suffer from stress-induced injuries. Oversized bags, over time, could even cause serious spinal deformities in school-going children.
Let’s understand the repercussions that students face while carrying heavy school bags:
What are musculoskeletal disorders?
This is the term used to define a group of conditions that affect the musculoskeletal system in the human body including the muscles, ligaments, discs, tendons and nerves. In children carrying heavy backpacks to school every day, this could mean serious injury to the back and spine.
Dr Deepak Sharan, who has extensively researched the topic, recently presented a paper on 'Musculoskeletal disorders in Indian school children due to carrying heavy backpacks', during the 20th World Ergonomics Congress in Florence, Italy. The paper states that regularly carrying heavy school bags could lead topain in the upper back, shoulder and neck in school children.
Long-term health problems
Dr Deepak Sharan said that such chronic pain in children could continue into adulthood and may cause long-term issues.
He adds that it could even affect the normal functioning of the brain. Dr Deepak warns that the long-term impact of the condition could lead to imbalances in postural alignment, which in turn can cause damage to the nervous system of a student. In some serious cases, as the alignment of the spine is imbalanced, the communication between the brain and the body could get disturbed.
Jayashree Hunsur from Bengaluru, who is the mother of a child studying in the seventh standard, says, “It breaks my heart to see my son carrying such a heavy backpack to school every day. We once complained about it to the school authorities. They assured us that they are working towards reducing the weight, but we could not see any improvement.”
How does the condition develop?
If you notice school-going kids, you will see those children, who carry heavy school bags tend to veer their head forward. As they carry a heavy weight on their back, they push their upper body to adjust it. This action damages their muscles and makes their posture unnatural. Over time, this leads to lower back pain.
Those who suffer from this condition may not experience any discomfort initially, until it’s too late. Another long-term effect of MSD is that children become more vulnerable to spinal cord injuries. In some cases, the pain from carrying heavy backpacks may be so intense that the students are forced to miss school.
If your child is having MSD caused by heavy backpacks, he would have the following symptoms:
- Redness or swelling over his neck and shoulder areas, where the straps of the backpack touch the skin.
- Stooping while carrying the backpack.
- Pain or stiffness in the upper back area, neck and shoulders.
- Pain in the forearm and wrist.
- Burning, numbness and tingling sensation in the upper back.
All the above symptoms and complaints may disappear when the child is at home during the school holidays.
What should be the ideal weight of a school bag?
The school backpack should be less than 10 per cent of the body weight of the student carrying it. That means a child, whose weight is 40 kg, should carry a four kilogram bag and no more.
How to reduce the weight of backpacks
"If the pain from carrying heavy backpacks to school every day becomes unbearable, the child should be given physiotherapy," says Dr Sharan.
Apart from that, here are some more ways to lighten the load:
- Request your child's school to provide lockers to keep school books.
- Instead of carrying the whole book, ask your child to photocopy the parts relevant to the week and carry those loose sheets instead.
- Talk to your child about improving his posture; this can reduce the occurrence of MSD.
- Encourage your child to take up physical activity; this will strengthen the spine and reduce the chances of injury.
- Encourage your child to be organised and to arrange her books according to his subjects only.
- Get quality backpacks for your child and keep them as light as possible. They must always be worn over both shoulders.
- Place all heavy items at the base of the pack, close to the spine, for a better distribution of the weight.
- 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 – a child must never sling the pack over one shoulder.
- Tell your child to shorten the straps until the bottom of the backpack is just above his waist, and not sitting on his buttocks.
- Encourage your child to use waist straps.
With inputs from Dr Deepak Sharan, leading Bengaluru-based consultant on Orthopaedics, Rehabilitation, Ergonomics, Occupational Safety and Health.
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