ONE of Ireland’s leading chiropractors has warned of the long term dangers of young school children being forced to carry school bags that are way too heavy for them. John Dineen of Dynamic Chiropractic says that children as young as nine and ten years old are in for a lifetime of back problems due to the strain of carrying bags that can often weigh between 10kg and 15kg.
“We’re passionate about this issue because we’re seeing the evidence of it on a weekly basis,” John told the Waterford News & Star. “Sometimes it’s the children themselves or it can be adults who say that they’ve had the problem since they were in school.”
John says he cringes every day when he sees small children hunched over by the size of the bags they are being asked to carry.
“You feel like stopping them and emptying their bags all over the pavement,” he said. “You know the damage that it’s doing to them and there’s very little you can do about it because it seems to be every second child.”
John has personally visited schools on a voluntary basis to educate both the children and the teachers about the dangers of heavy bags. He says there are a number of ways in which they are damaging children’s spines.
“Forgetting the actual weight of the bag for a moment, the posture that you have to adapt when you’re carrying them can lead to serious problems,” he explained. “The spine can be resilient when it comes to carrying a weight but it’s the ‘faulty posture’ you have to adapt when carrying that weight is the real problem.”
The other issue, which John says is often forgotten about, is how the child gets the bag on their back in the first place.
“They have to swing and twist and hike it up and do all the things, that, if you’ve ever done an ergonomics course, they teach you not to do,” John said. “To get a bag that size on your back you have to maneuver your body in a way that’s not natural and that’s very dangerous. A lot of the injuries I see in school children are often caused by act of picking up the bag and swinging it on to your shoulders.”
The most obvious danger with the school bags that children carry is the weight. John says that the heavy bags produce a compressive force on the spine that is not equipped to dealing with it. Standing beside a skeleton to illustrate the pressure that’s put on the spine, John explained it in more detail.
“Your spine is effectively a stack of bones,” he said. “Most adults will have developed a muscular (core) stability to protect it but children won’t have so they’re throwing a huge weight on a stack of bones that is not protected and that’s a precursor to problems.”
John says there’s a lack of joined up thinking between home, school, teachers and the pupils that keeps this problem alive.
“I feel like I’ve been on a crusade against heavy school bags for 15 years and when the iPads came out we thought that would be the end of it, but it just hasn’t happened,” he said. “The Department of Education will have to take some blame in this but there are practical things that parents and pupils can do to counteract this problem.”
Aside from the obvious one of using a locker, or leaving the books you don’t need at home, John recommends using a back pack with two wide padded straps, and if possible hip straps as well.
“Even going back to when I was in school, it was seen as cooler to carry a bag over one shoulder, but this is absolutely not recommended as a long term way of carrying a bag,” he said. “Something that’s almost definitely not going to happen but would make a huge difference to the present and the future, would be for them to use wheelie bags, but unfortunately, that’s not cool so not very likely.”
The Waterford News & Star photographed and interviewed a mixture of Primary and Secondary school students over the course of a number of months to see what kind of school bags the children of Waterford were carrying. As you can see from our images, they are dangerously over weight and putting enormous pressure on the backs of children as young as 10 years of age.
One boy told us that he had a locker but needed to bring all of the items in his bag that day. When weighed by Waterford News & Star, the bag weighed over 10kg. We contacted a number of schools in Waterford City including all the ones whose pupils we photographed. Only Mount Sion replied and Principal John McCardle said that they had looked into the issue and taken a number of measures including the use of lockers, a 1 hour timetable which has reduced the number of class periods during the day with a consequent reduction in number of books required each day, and a mentoring programme on the proper use of their school Journal in order to plan the minimum number of books required for a particular school day.