Back To School: Backpack Alert!

September is upon us and for most families that means ‘back to school’.  New books, stationary, sports gear, lunch boxes and drinks all have to be transported to and from school each day, with most children using a backpack. Carrying heavy loads for a long time or distance isn’t good for anyone, least of all children.  Researchers have found that the weight carried on their backs often exceeds 30% of their own body weight despite recommendations that schoolbags should not exceed 10-15%.

Carrying a heavy bag on the back causes forward leaning and bad posture, which can lead to improper weight bearing on the spine, and pains and aches in the back and shoulders.  Carrying a backpack weighing over 15% of one’s body weight makes a child or adolescent unable to maintain proper standing posture. Children who use one strap bags (which put weight on one shoulder only) can have asymmetric weight distribution and sideways deviation of the spine.  Forward bending of the spine due to the excessive weight of the bag also makes the work of breathing harder.  A study published in 2013 found that 9-12 year olds experienced reduced lung function even with a back pack load weighing as low as 7.4% of body weight!

Tips for proper use of backpacks:

  • Lighten the load. Keep the load at 10-15% or less of the child’s bodyweight.
  • Carry only those items that are required for the day.
  • Use lockers to store the remaining books or kit.
  • Organise the contents of the backpack by placing the heaviest items closest to the back.
  • Wear both straps: Use of one strap causes one side of the body to bear the weight of the backpack.
  • Pay close attention to the way the backpack is positioned; it should rest evenly in the middle of the back and not below the hips.
  • Adjust the shoulder straps correctly.
  • Remove and put on backpacks carefully: Keep the trunk of your body stable and avoid excessive twisting
  • Bend at the knees with the back straight when lifting the bag

Parents should look out for the following warning signs of excessive backpack weight: 

  • Change in posture when wearing the backpack.
  • Struggling when putting on or taking off the backpack.
  • Back, shoulder, neck pain or headaches.
  • Neurological signs such as tingling and numbness in the arms and hands.
  • Red marks on the shoulders.

Carrying a heavy back pack is not the only issue that can affect spinal health.  Sitting for long periods also affects brain function in people of all ages, not just children! The spine has a powerful relationship with the brain, spinal cord, and overall organ function.  In fact 90% of all the sensory information reaching the brain comes from spinal motion! It turns out that poor posture and limited mobility does not just create pain, dysfunction and degeneration in the muscles and skeletal system. Research shows that limited spinal motion negatively impacts the brain. The keys are to stay mobile and active with exercise (flexibility and strength), practice improving your posture (especially when seated) and get your spine checked regularly.

Make sure then that your child gets some physical activity/sport after school to combat the side effects of sitting for long periods during school time.  Get them to go out and play before homework time. The evenings are still bright and fresh air combined with physical activity will actually make home work easier!  And if you would like to get their spines assessed then please book in for a Free Spinal Check. If you have any questions relating to any of the above topics or about your (spinal) health, then please do not hesitate to contact  us!