More than three decades ago, I arrived with family in Shimla (hill station and capital of Himachal Pradesh) for a week's vacation. Lodging was booked in a hotel near the bus stand. The hotel building was too near to hire a auto or taxi, but carrying luggage with two small kids was difficult. There were groups of workers helping travelers with their luggage movement. All of them carried bundles of ropes with them, around their shoulders. One of them approached me with offer to take our luggage. I showed him the hotel and asked for the amount to be paid for moving the luggage. He agreed to take the items of luggage for a stipulated charge. I mentioned that what he was asking for was high. He smiled and suggested that I give whatever I felt like after reaching the hotel. He called out a friend to help him out with the luggage. The purpose of carrying the rope with them dawned on us only then. The items of luggage were bound on his back using the rope. Another worker took the two kids on his shoulders. We were asked to walk behind them. The strain of walking on a steep gradient at 7200 feet above sea level was well understood by us by the time we reached the hotel. On the way to the hotel we could see workers carrying heavy items like two gas cylinders each and even refrigerator tied to their backs. After reaching the hotel, we paid the two helpers more than what they initially asked. What looked as a small distance was indeed a difficult climb.
Watching farmers and workers carrying heavy gunny bags filled with grains or other items was a common sight, when we were young. Forklifts have generally taken over this job now, but manual labor is still used in bus stands or railway stations. Suitcases with wheels have made life easier for travelers, but difficult for those who make a living by carrying loads. Backpack bags have become very popular over the last two or three decades.
The most common sight of backpack carriers we now see are school children. The fortunate ones who travel to school by cars or even dedicated school buses are a different proposition. But the kids carrying the heavy school bags in public transport face lot of misery twice a day. For some of them, it is difficult to enter the buses or get down from them. Their body can get in or get out, but not their bags. They have to face scolding and ridicule from some of the passengers in the bus as well.
I visited a children's hospital in Pennsylvania recently. One of the display boards carried an interesting piece about backpack injuries to children. Heavy backpacks can result in serious injury to the spine and can have long term consequences for children and adults alike. Heavy backpacks cause over stretching of muscle-ligaments in the spine. When the initial over-stretching progresses to the next level, it results in micro-tears in muscle-ligament attachments. Thus initial strain leads to sprain. Internet gives pictures of how a backpack bag should be used to avoid these strains. One of those pictures is given here.
The hospital has given some sound advice to parents about "Backpack strategies for children". They are easy to follow and can protect the kids from serious injuries. They are summarized below:
- Total weight of the backpack should be not more than 10% of the body weight of the child. (For adults it could be 15 to 20%)
- Backpack bag of the right size should be chosen for the child. That could mean changing the bag every year in the initial years.
- Backpack bag should extend not more than 4" below the waistline of the child.
- Only absolutely necessary items are to be kept in the backpack. This means checking the contents each day instead of sending the bag in a routine manner.
- The backpack bag should have well padded shoulder straps. This puts less pressure on young collar bones.
- Straps should be adjusted to give a balance to the weight. In other words, one side should not sag in relation to the other.
- Heaviest items should be kept closer to the back, when the bag is put on the back of the child.
- Weight should be equally distributed in the backpack bag. Keeping heavy items on one side is to be avoided.
If the child complains of back pain, it is advisable to check the above points instead of giving usual remedies like applying some balm on the shoulders and back.
The position is no different when we see adults using backpack bags. Many use only one shoulder for carrying the bag. This can also put extra strain on the back bone and spine.
Come, Let us reduce the "Burden" on the children as well as ourselves!