Too much baggage


Too much baggage

In a week, we see about four to six schoolchildren with backache. The culprit is usually heavy school bags. At least 40 per cent of students who carry heavy bags suffer discomfort or pain at some point of time. About 10 per cent of them need medical treatment. A child’s school bag should be no more than 10 per cent of his/her body weight; this includes all things like their water bottle, lunchbox and the like.

Carrying heavy backpacks can lead to musculoskeletal problems, more so if the children
carry the bag on one shoulder. It puts extra pressure on one side, tilting one’s spine. Keeping the bag down and then, carrying it again is more dangerous for a growing spine. To carry a heavy bag, the child has to lean forward. This often leads to developing a bad posture.

The spine is a stack of bones called the vertebral column with the bones separated by cartilage, called the inter-vertebral disc and held upright by the muscles and ligaments around it. The excess weight puts undue stress on the muscles, ligaments and disc, thus damaging them.

The alignment of the spine is altered, causing it to bend, forward or sideways. The immediate effects of heavy school bags are pain in the back, neck and shoulder, with muscle tightness, tingling, numbness and weakness in the hands and loss of grip. Severity of pain might lead to lack of sleep, swelling and symptoms of nerve compression.
Ability to concentrate and other activities get affected. Also, other long-term effects are damages to the spine,  a hunched back, kyphosis (spine bent forward) or scoliosis (spine bent sideways). These later lead to deformities. Some parts tend to get affected more
because of the pressure on them.

Shoulders: Shoulders aren’t made to hang things. When a heavy load is put on the child’s shoulders, the joints and muscles tighten. This alters the bio-mechanics and creates potential strain.

Hips: Hips can become sore if a child is bending forward to compensate for the backward pull of the backpack.

Knees: Knee pain occurs because of a change in walking pattern and body
posture due to an overweight backpack. There is a reduced breathing capacity, due to pressure in scoliosis on the lungs, resulting from a forward/sideways-bent posture.

Every bone has a growth centre at the end of the structure or points from which growth of the bone takes place as per the age. Carrying excess weight could damage these growth centres leading to stunted or abnormal growth of the bones of the child.

Here’s what you should take care of before your child lifts that backpack:

The backpack should be made up of light-weight fabric and should not be overloaded.
Bags should not be worn lower than four inches below the waist.

When buying a bag, buy a sturdy, well-designed one with wide-padded shoulder straps that reduce pressure on the neck and shoulder area. A bag must have multiple compartments to help even distribution of the weight of the contents.

Parents should check the child’s posture after s/he has put the bag on. If one notices that the child is leaning forward, check if the bag is too heavy or if it has been packed

Make sure that the child is only carrying the items that are needed for school that day; remove any unnecessary books and equipment.

Children must never use a bag with the strap on the forehead. This puts heavy pressure and strain on the neck, spine and upper back.


    Student’s     Maximum bag
    weight (kg)    weight (kg)

    upto 25    3
    25 – 35    4.5
    35 – 45    7
    45 – 55    8
    55 – 65    9

No one should carry more than 10 kg

(The author is chairman & chief of orthopaedics, Hosmat Hospital, Bengaluru)

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