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Schoolbags – Are They Harming Your Child's Spine?

With most students going back to school recently, we have been getting a lot of questions from concerned parents at our clinics regarding school bags.

A heavy school bag which is carried incorrectly over 13 years of schooling can result in chronic back problems that may continue into adulthood.

A study published in the Australian Spine journal investigated the link between backpacks and back pain in school children. The study found:

  • 79.1 % of children say their backpacks feel heavy.

  • 65.7 % report feeling fatigued by the weight of their backpack.

  • 46.1 % report back pain caused by their backpack.

The correct use of a well-designed backpack is very important to promote good posture and minimise unnecessary stress on your child’s spine.

Buying the Right Backpack

If your child’s school does not have a set school bag, then shop around and try to find the correct one with the following features:

  • Make sure the backpack is appropriate for your child’s size. When the shoulder straps are adjusted the bottom of the backpack should be just above the child’s waist. The backpack should not be hanging low over the buttocks

  • Adjustable shoulder straps

  • The rear of the backpack should be padded for comfort.

  • The backpack should have separate compartments to help with packing

  • A moulded frame and/or adjustable hip strap, so that the weight of the filled backpack will rest on your child’s pelvis instead of their shoulders and spine.

  • Canvas backpacks are lighter than leather varieties.

  • Children are fashion conscious and vulnerable to peer pressure, so make sure you take your child with you when buying their backpack. If they like their bag, then they are more likely to wear it correctly.

Packing the Backpack Correctly

  • The backpack should weigh less that 10% of your child’s body weight. So a 40kg child, should carry less than 4kgs in their backpack.

  • The heaviest items should be packed closest to the child’s back. This helps with comfort and also to maintain proper centre of gravity and avoid unnecessary strain on the spine.

  • Use the backpacks compartments to pack items securely to minimise the load moving around. This helps to keep the load balanced and avoids disrupting their centre of gravity

Carrying and Lifting The Backpack Correctly

  • Wear the bag over BOTH shoulders

  • The shoulder straps should be adjusted so that the backpack contours to the child’s back, rather than hang off their shoulders. If the shoulder straps are too loose, your child will compensate and lean forward when walking, placing unnecessary stress on their body.

  • When lifting a backpack, this should be done from bench height whenever possible

  • If they need to lift it off the floor, they should lift the backpack with both hands keeping a straight back, and using their thigh muscles to lift

Other Helpful Tips

  • Encourage your child to store books in their school locker, and only bring home those needed for homework.

  • Instead of carrying textbooks home, photocopy relevant chapters.

  • If your child insists they need to bring home more books than they can comfortably carry, speak to their teacher.

  • Regularly clean out the backpack, since your child may be storing unneeded items.

Remember to regularly ask your child if their backpack is causing fatigue or pain. Also look out for some of the warning signs a backpack is too heavy such as a change in posture when wearing the pack, struggling when putting on or removing the pack, tingling or numbness in arms and red marks on shoulders.

If you see any of these warning signs, lighten the load and adjust the fittings. If their symptoms persist or you are unsure about anything bring them in with their school bag to either of our clinics for an assessment.

Dr Danny Diab - Chiropractor

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