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  • Brixton Therapy Centre

Time to ditch the heavy bag

Tips for avoiding the perils of snail syndrome

At the start of another academic year, spare a thought for the nation’s schoolchildren. Whoever said that schooldays are the best days of one’s life probably didn’t have to lug around a gigantic bag laden with heavy books, PE kit, lunchbox, water bottle, musical instrument (optional), laptop/tablet and pencil case et cetera all day! That’s certainly more than I carried at that age. Often weighing in at over two stone (12.7kg) and frequently carried wrongly, regular use of The Bag can lead to all sorts of back, shoulder, neck and general postural problems.

Schoolchild or snail?

It’s a particular shock for new Year 7s whose load grows almost overnight, thanks to the multifarious demands of secondary school. It’s worth mentioning, too, that Heavy Bag Syndrome is not confined to schoolchildren – office workers carrying laptops to and from work, particularly if they hot desk, can also be victims.

With new schools (and offices) increasingly built and equipped without sufficient locker and storage space, students are being forced to carry a whole day’s worth of text books to, from and around the school. ‘Snail Syndrome’, or the phenomenon of carrying their heavy homes around on their backs, is now a reality for many of our children.

It’s nothing new…

For several years experts have warned about the perils of heavy schoolbags. In 2012 the charity BackCare claimed that half of children suffer back pain by the age of 14. A third of parents told the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) that their child has had back or neck pain, while a 2017 study among Spanish schoolchildren showed that 97% of the sample carried ‘heavy bags’ with a quarter hefting over 20 per cent of their body weight.

It’s a triple whammy. Bags are often very large, allowing overfilling. Frequently their weight and size tip the wearer forward, straining joints and muscles, placing pressure on the hips and lower back and establishing poor postural patterns. It doesn’t help that most children hitch the entire weight of The Bag onto one shoulder, causing a Leaning Tower of Pisa effect as well as pulling up the shoulder and tilting the head. The inevitable result is neck pain and/or tight back and shoulders.

The third major problem is lack of exercise. A sedentary lifestyle, especially when young, is more likely to cause obesity and poor muscle tone, a major reason for back problems. Keeping active builds both core strength and muscle tone – two very good reasons to ditch the smartphone and PlayStation!

Which bag is best?

Even if you can’t always reduce the number of items carried, you can still ensure that The Bag is the most supportive that it can be. For this, the best bet is still the good old rucksack. Worn correctly (and this is vital, it distributes weight more equally and symmetrically over the whole body. Fortunately for image-conscious teens, ruckies have come a long way in colour, style and functionality, while wheelie bags and The Healthy Backbag’s multi-compartment bags (that distribute the weight evenly along their length) are increasingly popular alternatives.

Here are a few tips for selecting the most appropriate schoolbag:

  • Comfort and stability are key so opt for hard-wearing, lightweight and waterproof material (especially nylon and canvas) with a padded back, wide straps and waist belt for extra support and, of course, the all-important reflective features.

  • A good-quality backpack organises books, stationery items, food and PE kit within various sections, distributing the load equally across back and shoulders. Mini compartments for small items are helpful, as are secret ones for valuables…..not forgetting an external holder for water bottle holders!

  • Don’t always go for the cheapest. Schoolbags take a hammering, so good-quality material is less likely to fall apart, sag or provide insufficient support.

  • Wheelie schoolbags are an excellent alternative. These allow the wheels rather than the spine to take the strain and there are plenty of reasonably priced options available from the likes of Amazon. I would really like to start a campaign to persuade our stubborn kids to use wheelie cases for their own good. My own teenager would rather walk to school bent double than spread the load on wheels. Looking cool is more important and having an osteopath for a mother cuts no ice with her! 

Wearing your ruckie safely:

  • Adjust the straps carefully so the bag sits high on the back and close to the spine, with the rib cage and pelvis (if you fasten the waist strap) bearing the main load.

  • The heaviest items (note to laptop carriers) should sit nearest the body.

  • Always wear the rucksack over both shoulders never over just the one!

  • Pack only what you need for the day, ensuring that the bag weighs no more than 10 per cent of your bodyweight. Resist the temptation to over-fill!

  • Lift full bags carefully – with knees bent and with both hands to avoid back strain.

Do your teenagers complain of any aches or niggles? Don't let this become a chronic problem. All our osteopaths are qualified to treat teenagers and, during September we are offering teenagers 30% off an osteopathy consultation, bringing the price to just £49. Please get in touch or phone 020 7733 9944 to book and quote ‘Septemberteen’.

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