Choosing a School Bag
Increasing numbers of school children are reporting spinal pain in clinical practice. Sometimes this can go unnoticed or may be overlooked until it is too late. One of the major causes of back pain in younger age groups is carrying excessive loads to and from school in an ill-fitted or inappropriate school backpack. Recent research has shown a relationship between school bag loads, posture problems and spinal pain.
Choosing an appropriate school bag, having it fitted correctly and wearing it properly is extremely important to ensure healthy development of your child’s spine. A poorly fitted, inappropriately worn or excessively heavy school bag can cause a number of health issues for your child – potentially leading to problems later in life. Any of these issues, particularly when combined with over 12 years of schooling, can lead to such health and spinal problems as scoliosis, kyphosis, neck pain, headaches, shoulder pain, lower back pain and poor posture.
Posture problems and spinal pain in children and adolescents have the potential to lead to permanent spinal damage in later years. However, many of these issues can be prevented by following some simple steps when choosing, and wearing, a school bag.
School Bag Tips for Good Spinal Health:
- If your child complains of back, neck or shoulder pain, or, you notice that their posture is poor (figure 1), it may be that their school backpack is inappropriate or not being worn correctly. In these instances, seeing your physiotherapist for a school bag assessment and spinal check, along with appropriate advice, is vital to hasten recovery, prevent further injury and avoid permanent spinal damage.
Figure 1 – Poor Standing Posture
- If your child complains that their school bag is too heavy – it probably is. Try to reduce the load of the contents.
- Limit the load of your child’s school bag – help them to plan ahead so that they don’t carry too much. Encourage your child to store books in their school locker, and only bring home those needed for homework. Regularly clean out the backpack, as your child may be carrying unnecessary items.
- In the event that your child is unable to avoid carrying a heavy load, try to limit the distance that they will have to carry it.
- Ideally keep your child’s backpack to less than 5kg and never allow them to carry more than 10 per cent of their bodyweight.
- Pack heavy items closest to the spine.
- Make sure packed items can’t move around during transit – use the backpack’s compartments to keep things in their appropriate place.
- Take regular short rests when carrying a heavy backpack, particularly if it is over long distances.
- Never carry a school bag in one hand by the straps or wear it slung over one shoulder. Always wear the backpack over both shoulders with the straps fitted firmly and comfortably. Don’t allow your child to wear the backpack hanging low off their shoulders or down around their buttocks.
- Try to maintain good posture when carrying a school bag (figure 2). Don’t slouch!
Figure 2 – Optimal Standing Posture
- Teach your child correct lifting and carrying techniques.
- When choosing a school bag, choose a backpack (rather than a traditional school bag with handles) that incorporates positive design features which limit the load that children have to carry.
Choosing a School Bag
When choosing a school bag the following tips and design features should be considered:
- Opt for a backpack with two even straps which allow the weight of the load to be distributed evenly over the body. Bags with only one strap can cause injury to the shoulder, back and neck from uneven load distribution.
- The centre of mass of the bag should be at waist height.
- Choose a bag that fits your child and is appropriate to their body size. It should rest comfortably against their back. Avoid bags that are wider than your child.
- The bag should have adjustable buckles or straps to lower or lift the pack into the appropriate position.
- Choose a backpack with a moulded frame and an adjustable waist belt, so that the weight of the backpack can rest on your child’s pelvis instead of their shoulders and spine.
- The waist belt will also help keep the bag close to the body and in place when moving around.
- All straps should ideally be padded and wide to help distribute the weight of the bag more evenly and over a larger area. This should include both the shoulder straps and the waist belt.
- The bag should also be padded where it touches the back.
More Tips on Choosing a School Bag
- The bag should feature separate storage compartments to allow for heavy items to be packed close to the body.
- The bag should be made of firm material to prevent sagging.
- The bag should be lightweight and as small as possible whilst still practical. Larger bags may encourage your child to pack more than is needed.
- Look for a backpack which is endorsed by an Australian professional organisation, such as the Australian Physiotherapy Association.
- Children are fashion conscious and are vulnerable to peer pressure, so ensure your child is involved in the decision process when you are buying their backpack. If the backpack you choose is ‘uncool’, your child may compensate by carrying it in a ‘cool’ way, such as having it hang down around their buttocks or slung over one shoulder.
Choosing a School Bag Summary
- Increasing numbers of school children are reporting spinal pain in clinical practice.
- Inappropriate or poorly fitted school bags are a common cause of back, neck and shoulder injuries, as well as, poor posture.
- These injuries can lead to permanent spinal damage and ongoing problems in later life if not addressed.
- Choosing an appropriate school backpack that is fitted to your child, is comfortable, encourages reduced load on the spine and enables even distribution of the load is vital to prevent injury and maintain good spinal health.
- Actively maintaining good posture when carrying the bag and keeping the weight carried to a minimum (ideally less than 10% of body weight) is extremely important to avoid injury.
- Don’t allow your child’s spinal pain or poor posture to go unchecked by an appropriate health professional.
Physiotherapy Products to assist with posture related injuries
Lumbar Rolls (for sitting)
- Therapeutic Pillows
- McKenzie Treat Your Own Back Books
Sports Tape (for postural taping)
To purchase physiotherapy products to assist with improving posture and posture related injuries click on one of the above links or visit the PhysioAdvisor Shop
Find a Physio
Find a physiotherapist in your local area who can assess your child’s posture (and school bag) and provide appropriate treatment and advice on choosing an appropriate school bag.
- View Improving Your Posture
- View Safe Lifting
- View Postural Taping
- View Beginner Pilates Exercises designed to improve posture
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