Original Research

The consequence of head-loading on the neuro-musculoskeletal health of the ILembe District youth of KwaZulu-Natal

Tebogo G. Motaung, Terry J. Ellapen, Yvonne Paul
African Journal of Disability | Vol 11 | a1039 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ajod.v11i0.1039 | © 2022 Tebogo G. Motaung, Terry J. Ellapen, Yvonne Paul | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 10 March 2022 | Published: 14 December 2022

About the author(s)

Tebogo G. Motaung, Department of Sport Rehabilitation and Dental Science, Faculty of Science, Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria, South Africa
Terry J. Ellapen, Department of Sport Rehabilitation and Dental Science, Faculty of Science, Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria, South Africa
Yvonne Paul, Department of Sport Rehabilitation and Dental Science, Faculty of Science, Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria, South Africa


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Abstract

Background: Head-loading, as a mode of transporting food, water and firewood, is a longstanding tradition assigned to female South African youth and has been associated with adverse health consequences.

Objectives: This study determined the impact of head-loading on the neuromusculoskeletal health and proprioception of female South African youth.

Method: This study comprised a counterbalanced, within-subject, single-factor experimental design which compared the changes that occurred when the same independent variable (head-loading) within two homogenous groups was measured in terms of the dependent variables (outcomes: neuromusculoskeletal pain and proprioception) at two time periods, before and after the introduction of the independent variable. A cohort of South African female youth (n = 100), aged 9–17 years, voluntarily partook in the study. The participants were randomly distributed into an experimental (n = 50) and a control (n = 50) group. The experimental group stood in a head-loaded state with their respective habitual head-load mass. Their proprioception measurements were compared during their unloaded versus loaded states, with the proprioceptive measurements including the total proprioception index, the anterior–posterior (front–back) index and the medial–lateral (side-to-side) index. Participants furthermore completed a head-loading health-related questionnaire.

Results: Participants had a mean age of 12.3 ± 2.5 years, body mass of 44.4 ± 13.7 kg, stature of 145 ± 10 cm and a head-load mass of 8.0 ± 2.5 kg. Participants had poorer medial–lateral proprioception during head-loading as compared to their unloaded state (1.4 ± 0.8 as compared to 1.6 ± 0.9) (p < 0.05). Most youth (96%) experienced neuromusculoskeletal pain in their cervical vertebrae (40.9%), shoulders (27.3%), lumbar vertebrae (10.7%), arms (8.3%), legs (8.3%), knees (1.9%), fingers (1.5%), toes (0.5%) and thoracic vertebrae (0.5%) (χ2p < 0.05).

Conclusion: Head-loading adversely affects the medial–lateral proprioception and neuromusculoskeletal health of participants.

Contribution: The findings of this study confirms that head-loading produces musculoskeletal pain.


Keywords

head-loading; proprioception; neuromusculoskeletal health; youth; biokinetics; pain

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