Effect of prolonged walking with backpack loads on trunk muscle activity and fatigue in children

This study investigated the effect of prolonged walking with load carriage on muscle activity and fatigue in children. Fifteen Chinese male children (age = 6 years, height = 120.0 ± 5.4 cm, mass = 22.9 ± 2.6 kg) performed 20-min walking trials on treadmill (speed = 1.1 m s-1) with different backpack loads (0%, 10%, 15% and 20% body weight). Electromyography (EMG) signals from upper trapezius (UT), lower trapezius (LT) and rectus abdominis (RA) were recorded at several time intervals (0, 5, 10, 15 and 20 min), and were normalized to the signals collected during maximum voluntary contraction. Integrated EMG signal (IEMG) was calculated to evaluate the muscle activity. Power spectral frequency analysis was applied to evaluate muscle fatigue by the shift of median power frequency (MPF). Results showed that a 15% body weight (BW) load significantly increased muscle activity at lower trapezius when the walking time reached 15 min. When a 20% BW load was being carried, increase in muscle activity was found from 5 min, and muscle fatigue was found from 15 min. In upper trapezius, increase of muscle activity was not found within the 20-min period, however, muscle fatigue was found from 10 min. No increased muscle activity or muscle fatigue was found in rectus abdominis. It is suggested that backpack loads for children should be restricted to no more than 15% body weight for walks of up to 20 min duration to avoid muscle fatigue.