Heavy or incorrectly fitted school bags are one of the causes of back pain and neck pain in children and adolescents. A study published in the Australian Journal of Physiotherapists about adolescents found that carrying a bag for more than 30 minutes daily and taking an inactive form of transport to school (car or bus) increased the odds of having both back or neck pain.  The study also found that physical activity in the form of walking or riding to school may offset the potentially provocative effects of prolonged bag carriage (so you’ll just have to read the upcoming blog about physical activity too).

Back to school bags – What You Need to Know! Here are some tips when considering which bag to buy and how to teach your child to wear it correctly: 

  1. Buy the right size and style bag. Buy a school bag that is the appropriate size for your child’s back. Two shoulder straps are always better than a bag that is carried over one shoulder. Consider a lightweight bag that has a padded back, wide and padded adjustable straps, a moulded frame and is relatively water resistant.
  2. Ensure the bag is packed correctly. Position the heavy items closest to your child’s back. Ensure items are secure within the bag so that items don’t move around causing potential strain on your child’s back. A drink holder on the outside of the bag may avoid spillage and wet school books or laptop too!
  3. Don’t pack too much in the bag. A backpack should weigh less than 10 percent of your child’s body weight. That means no more than 4kg for a 40kg child. Encourage your child to pack only what is necessary for that day.
  4. Teach your child to lift and carry the bag correctly. Show your child how to lift the bag by bending at the knees, keeping a straight back and carrying the bag so that the bottom of the bag sits around the waistline rather than around the hip level. A bag carried too low will cause your child to lean forward to counteract the weight and shift their centre of gravity causing back strain. Backpacks are always better carried on both shoulders.

What else can you do?

  • If your child already has neck or back pain or poor posture, then make an appointment to see an osteopath. Appropriate treatment, postural or ergonomic advice and the correct exercises may prevent further neck or back pain.
  • Encourage your child to be physically active. Stronger back muscles and core strength will help to reduce the risk of back pain from carrying a heavy school bag. More on the benefits of your children being physically active next time!

Article written by Dr Melanie Woollam

Sources include: Haselgrove et al (2008). Adolescent spinal pain and school bags (Australian Journal of Physiotherapists), Kidspot Australia.

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