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BACK TO SCHOOL: Get The Right Fitting Backpack!

Get your kids active and protect their spine with the right fitting school backpack!

It has been suggested that 9 out of 10 children are not active enough; an alarming figure thanks to our advancing technology which is allowing us to stay at home and interact (or not interact) from the couch for hours on end. Generation Z are much less likely to play outdoors or walk to meet a friend, and there has been close to a 50% reduction in the number of children who either walk or ride to and from school.

So what is the consequence?

The number of overweight or obese children is predicted to reach 65% by 2020 which not only carries several health concerns but also increases the incidence of physical pain, most commonly spine related pain. National guidelines recommend at least 1 hour of daily activity for adolescent children and, whilst sporting commitments will greatly assist to achieve this, walking or riding to school can knock off quite a few minutes.

As well as leading a sedentary lifestyle and/or being overweight, poorly fitting school bags have contributed to an increase in the number of children with neck, back and shoulder pain. A trend towards younger children presenting with spinal pain is worrying and we’re seeing these postural effects flow on to adulthood to cause ongoing pain and injury. With the start of the school year upon us, it is a great time to assess your child’s current backpack and decide whether it could do with a makeover or upgrade. It is especially important for those children who do walk to school and carry their backpack for extended periods; they definitely won’t want to walk to school if they end up with back pain as a result and nor should they.

Here are some tips to protect your child’s spine with the right fitting school bag: 

  • It may seem obvious but you need to make sure your child is wearing the backpack over both shoulders to disperse the load evenly – the one shoulder approach isn’t cool anymore anyway!
  • Ensure the bag is an appropriate size – don’t buy one too big with the aim that they will ‘grow into it’.
  • The bag must have adjustable and padded shoulder straps (and preferably a padded back) that are appropriately tightened. The top of the bag shouldn’t be above shoulder height and the bottom of the bag shouldn’t be below hip level – definitely not below the buttock.
  • Chest and waist straps are also very beneficial to hold the backpack close to the spine and distribute the load across the chest and pelvis. I understand it might be difficult to get your child to commit to wearing these ‘fashion statements’ but it’s worth a try.
  • The weight of the bag will ideally be less than 10% of your child’s bodyweight.
  • Place heavier items such as textbooks closer to the spine and lighter items in the front compartment. Only carry books required for that day!

If your child’s school doesn’t have an allocated backpack and they are in need of an upgrade, the Australian Physiotherapy Association recommends Spartan physiopaks. If you have any questions about your  school-age child’s physcial health as they head back to school come and see one of your Physio’s at Bend + Mend in Sydney’s CBD.

Benjamin Wright

Ben has worked as a Physiotherapist in private practice since graduating from the University of South Australia in 2012. As a result of his strong sporting background, he holds a particular interest in sports-related injuries, and he likes to incorporate Neuromuscular Dry Needling with a variety of other techniques whilst empowering his clients through exercise prescription. Ben also has a keen interest in spinal injuries and headache management. He has recently moved to Sydney after spending some time travelling through Europe.

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