CHILDREN could be damaging their backs by carrying heavy schoolbags, a new study has found.
As youngsters prepare to go back to school parents and carers are being warned of the dangers of heavy backpacks and the damage they can cause to children’s spines.
The warning comes following a study which looked at why back pain in children is on the increase.
In the first informal research study in Wales, Helena Webb, a paediatric physiotherapist based at Morriston Hospital, Swansea, surveyed several schools across the Neath Port Talbot area and studied a sample of children aged 8 – 12 and age 15.
Across Swansea, Neath Port Talbot and Bridgend the percentage of paediatric referrals to physiotherapy for back and neck pain increased from 2.1% during September 2011 peaking at 4.5% in March 2012. It is predicted they are likely remain around 3.5 – 3.9%.
Previous studies have shown that almost half of all children of secondary school age experience occasional backache and that back pain during adolescence can mean youngsters are four times more likely to suffer the condition as adults.
As well as carrying heavy schoolbags, ill-fitting classroom furniture combined with sedentary lifestyles and poor posture means many adolescents could be exposing themselves to back trouble.
Alongside this, the car culture and a passion for computer games have reduced physical activity and linked with poor diet and a high consumption of junk food, inactivity and bad diets have become an accepted way of life.
These habits can encourage poor posture and weight gain and mean that joints and muscles are not worked through their full range and normal length and makes it more difficult for the bodyto cope with day to day tasks.
Backache affects up to 95% of the population at some stage and costs the economy around £10bn a year in lost productivity and disability or sickness benefits.
Ms Webb, whose study found that child back pain is on the increase, said: “As a paediatric physiotherapist I see children and adolescents with back pain.
“While chatting to patients during treatment sessions, it became apparent that carrying their heavy school bags around school in the absence of lockers in schools today, and sitting on uncomfortable school furniture were huge contributing factors to their daily back pain.
“We really need to educate parents, teachers and children about the safe weight for school bags, the correct way of carrying bags and the importance of sitting on appropriate furniture in the classroom.
“Looking after your back while you’re young can help prevent back problems arising in adulthood. It’s fact that adolescent back pain sufferers are four times more likely to experience back pain as an adult.”
Ms Webb has now been invited to speak to a group of primary and secondary school teachers in the autumn of this year as part of the annual Healthy Schools Scheme teacher training sessions.
She hopes to use the information from the study to develop a physiotherapy-led healthy back education scheme which could be taken into schools across ABMU health board.
She: “Healthy eating and oral hygiene teaching is established on the health education curriculum in schools. Implementing back care teaching sessions into the school timetable will help us reduce the risk of the current generation of children becoming adults who live with back pain.”
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health’s Officer for Wales, Dr Iolo Doull, said that the issue poor diet and inactivity needed to be addressed alongside tackling the issue of heavy school bags.
He said: “It’s clear from this research that children’s backs are put under daily strain due to heavy school bags.
“However, we must also take into account other factors that contribute to back pain in children. For example, playing video games, watching TV and spending a long time on computers can lead to poor fitness and posture which can result in back pain.
“Being overweight also puts an extra strain on bones and muscles – and in Wales we have some of the highest rates of childhood obesity.
“So while carrying heavy bags is not good for anyone – let alone children – we also need to change other kinds of behaviours to improve posture, health and nutrition if we’re to significantly reduce the numbers complaining of back pain.”
Philippa Ford, Policy Officer for the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy said they would continue highlight the issue of schoolbags and the detrimental effect it can have on health.
She said: “The profession continues to highlight its concerns about the pressures placed on backs and necks by the carrying of school bags. This work carried out in ABMU provides another piece of evidence that attention must be paid to the issue to make sure children and young people are not storing up musculoskeletal problems for the future.
“The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy has focussed on back pain in young people as part of our ‘Move for Health’ campaign and I’m really pleased to see the physiotherapy service in ABMU taking such a proactive approach to the issue.”