Heavy schoolbags have been an ongoing concern for both parents and students. Yvette Lim, a full-time mum to Claudine, 7, and Stephanie, 10, she feels that what her daughters carry to school overwhelm their small frames.
“To be fair, the school lets them leave quite a lot of text books in their lockers. But they do carry some books, files, worksheets, as well as their storybooks, water bottles, pencil cases, raincoats, and so on,” she laments. Her petite Primary 1 daughter, who weighs just 20kg, looks especially “hunched over” after strapping on her schoolbag.
Dr Henry Chan of HC Orthopaedic Surgery notes that multiple guidelines recommend that “schoolbags should not exceed 10 per cent of the child’s body weight”. This means that a child who weighs 30kg should not be carrying a bag that’s heavier than 3kg.
Noting that he has been seeing a lot more spine problems in children and adolescents, he adds, “In addition to the excessive usage of mobile phones and tablets in the last decade, I believe it is [also] largely contributed by oversized schoolbags.”
Dr Erica Kiela, a chiropractor with Full Potential Chiropractic, agrees. “As school kids get older, we often see the weight of their schoolbags increase substantially, along with increased school demands and hours [spent] sitting.”
“Schoolbags should not exceed 10 per cent of the child’s body weight.” This means that a child who weighs 30kg should not be carrying a bag that’s heavier than 3kg.
Carrying a too-heavy bag can affect your child’s posture and give him or her neck, back or shoulder pain. Dr Chan points out that studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between the incidence of back pain to the bag to body weight ratio.
“While there is no research evidence of scoliosis (a curved spine) being linked to heavy schoolbags, it might still be a contributing factor,” he notes.
Dr Kiela recommends that parents look at their child’s posture from the side, then observe their posture again with a heavy book bag. “The worsening of posture can be dramatic,” she says. “When these postural distortions occur in children, they often worsen and can even become permanent as they grow into adults.”
The added stress on developing joints, muscles and spinal bones is linked to the future development of secondary symptoms, she adds. These include:
- Neck pain.
- Shoulder stiffness.
- Back pain.
- Decreased lung capacity and poor mood.
Lugging the extra load around can also affect your child’s psychological and emotional disposition in school.
For instance, a person’s posture is linked to their focus and mood. Dr Kiela says that a hunching posture also decreases self-confidence. “If your child is already suffering from pain or discomfort caused by these structural issues, they will likely not be as outgoing, be more irritable, and less active in the classroom, sports or activities.”
This can also lead to them feeling more “stressed out” or anxious.
Dr Chan states, “If your kids are suffering from chronic back pain or neck pain, they may find it hard to concentrate in school.”
In addition, your child may want to avoid physical activities because of their back issues. This can affect their physical well-being and fitness in the future.
Dr Chan adds, “In fact, back pain is the number one cause of loss of work productivity in working adults.”
Encourage your child to leave some books in the locker at school, dissuade them from bringing an excessive amount of stationery to school, and make sure they pack their schoolbag daily.
If your child is already suffering some of the above symptoms, Dr Kiela says that chiropractic care can prevent a small problem from developing into a major one. If spinal misalignments are found, a chiropractor will make adjustments to correct the structural issues.
She explains, “An adjustment is a very specific, focused and gentle input of pressure into a misaligned area of the spine, to restore alignment and promote optimal health of the nervous system.”
Dr Chan, he would encourage his young patients to undergo a trial of conservative treatment with physiotherapy. “We generally don’t want our young patients to be over-reliant on strong painkillers. Surgery will be the last option if their condition or symptoms do not respond [to treatment].”
Preventive measures to take
Both Dr Chan and Dr Kiela agree that prevention is the way to go. Here is what they recommend:
- Limit the bag weight Try these strategies: Encourage your child to leave some books in the locker at school, dissuade them from bringing an excessive amount of stationery to school, and make sure they pack their schoolbag daily. “Empty out your child’s schoolbag and review what they have stuffed inside. You would be surprised what items accumulate inside that add unnecessary weight,” Dr Kiela advises.
- Carry it right Dr Kiela suggests that parents check schoolbag straps for proper shoulder placement, making sure that the bottom of the schoolbag is slightly above the waist and resting in the curve of the lower back. “A schoolbag with a chest strap and hip belt helps to distribute the load more evenly,” she says. Dr Chan adds that the child should carry the schoolbag with two straps on two shoulders. “To equally distribute the forces across the spine would be better than carrying on one shoulder,” he says.
- Encourage good posture “Slouching is very bad and it puts a lot of stress on the lower back,” says Dr Chan. Looking down for a prolonged period of time can also put a lot of stress on the neck. To encourage good posture, ensure that your child’s writing table height is not too high or too low, and limit their usage of handphones and tablets.
- Regular checks Check your child’s shoulder and head level at least once a month to determine if they are showing early signs of repetitive stress on their growing spine, Dr Kiela suggests.
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