Ribble Valley osteopath issues warning over pupils’ back problems

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OSTEOPATH Robin Percival is calling on parents and teachers in the Ribble Valley to think about the effect of heavy school bags on children’s health.

For Back Care Awareness week this week, the British Osteopathic Association – of which Robin is a member – is highlighting the health implications of small bodies carrying heavy school bags. It wants the sight of children bowed down under the weight of bags crammed full of books to become a thing of the past.

Robin, who operates the Kendal House Clinics in Clitheroe and Longridge, has treated some of the damage caused by carrying excessive loads. Heavy bags can put pressure on the discs between the vertebrae which can cause long-term back pain in still-developing bodies and children can suffer muscular pain, headaches, tingling and numbness in the arms and legs and even mobility problems.

“Children should never carry more than 15% of their own body weight,” warned Robin. “Parents can help by packing their children’s rucksacks and making sure heavier items are nearer to the child’s back. Heavier items on the outside of the bag throw the child’s centre of gravity out of balance, which leads to bad posture and increases the chances of them straining their back.”

Other suggestions include:

A backpack is more comfortable than a bag that puts strain on one shoulder, but a backpack shouldn’t be overloaded.

When buying a bag, buy a sturdy, well-designed bag with wide, padded shoulder straps that reduces pressure on the neck and shoulder area. Buy a bag with adjustable straps which can be altered as the child grows.

Check your child’s posture after he has put the bag on. If you notice your child leaning forward or slouching, check if the bag is too heavy or if it has been packed incorrectly.

Make sure your child is only carrying the items they need for school that day – remove unnecessary books and equipment

Schools should provide and encourage use of permanent lockers for storing equipment or books that can be left at school.

Another challenge to children’s health, and one which is specifically an issue for girls, are shoes in the form of high heels and flat pumps. Wearing high heels (anything over 2in.) is stressful on the joints of the foot as the whole weight of the body is forced into a narrow, pointed area.

High heels can contribute to knee and back problems because of the way wearers are forced to pay attention to their balance and to take shorter strides. Heels also force the thigh muscles to work harder, putting extra strain on the knee joints and tendon that runs from the knee cap to the thigh bone. Compared with walking barefoot, high heels increase the pressure on the inside of the knee by around 26% and over time this increased pressure on the knee can lead to osteoarthritis.

Robin concluded: “As with most things, moderation is the key here. Wearing the same type of shoe all the time can force your foot into an unnatural position. Flat shoes are usually easier on your feet than heels, but with no shock absorbency and little heel support, there is a risk of developing a painful condition called plantar fasciitis (pain on the soles of you feet) and calcaneal bursitis (pain under your heel).

“The answer is to change your style of shoes regularly and avoid the extremes – don’t wear heels that are too high or shoes that are too flat.”

Kendal House Clinic can be found in Clitheroe at 24 Chatburn Road and in Longridge at 11 Whittingham Road.