Taking the guessing out of correct school bags

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Taking proper care your child’s spine this Back-to-School Season.

The long summer holidays are coming to an end and that means a return to school (and for most mothers this couldn’t come soon enough). New uniforms and school stationary is needed, but with that comes the question of what is the correct school bag for my child. This is a question that we as physiotherapists hear all the time and while there is no definitive answer, we can offer some guidelines to help in choosing the correct bag for the year.

Most doctors and physical therapists recommend that the full school bag should not exceed 10% to 15% of the child’s body weight. This would be considered as the upper limits, especially in very young children.

However, is this possible these days, with all the books and extras needed? Sadly, even in this digital era, when at least some schoolwork can be done online, there has been no apparent decrease in the weight carried by children. Often lockers are a available at the school, but they are generally not used much as they are too far from the classes or there is not enough time between periods to exchange the books.

So, we are stuck with carrying the heavy books,which means a good school bag is essential.

Here are a few simple guidelines for choosing a ‘healthy’ backpack:

  • Choose a backpack with two straps and ensure that these are tightened evenly. This allows the weight of the bag to be distributed evenly over the body. A bag with one strap can cause injury to the shoulder, back and neck from uneven load distribution. Of course, if the bag has two straps, encourage your child to use both straps at all times.
  • 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.
  • When fixing the straps of the bag, aim to have the center of the mass of the bag at waist level.
  • 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 bodyand 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.
  • Although a wheelie bag is considered a good option when looking to buy a school bag, it has its own set of complications. It results in twisting of the upper body when pulling the bag, thus it is advised to roll the bag next to the body or push it in front of the body. Our spines like a balanced approach and too many forces in different directions can lead to strain and pain.
  •  Avoid swinging the school bag around and lifting it on the back – This applies a combination of rotation and side flexion with force to the spine. It is better to place the bag on a surface and then with your back to the bag, put your arms through the straps. Alternatively, another person could help by holding the bag while the child puts their arms through the straps.

 As much as choosing the correct school bag can help, we should also consider the role of exercise in the growing childs spine. With the advances in technology, our children are moving and exercising less as they spend more time on laptops, computers and smartphones. This leads to an increase in joint stiffness and muscle weakness which increases the chance of spinal problems occurring with the carrying of heavy school bags. As such, physiotherapists and teachers alike, recommend a healthy and active lifestyle to balance out the effects of modern living.

We are made to move. Exercise helps to achieve good posture, which will have life long benefits.
Exercise need not be anything formal or specific and can be as basic or organized as you want it to be. It can be as simple as going for a walk on the beach to training for a specific sports event. Remember, our spines are designed to be upright and mobile and not crouched and static on the computer or desk.

 If you have any queries on what is required for a healthy spine, please contact your physiotherapist at Vitalite Physiotherapy Centre. Also, for the month of September, we will be doing free posture screening at the clinic for children and adolescents. Just phone up and ask for an appointment for a free screening and let us prevent the problems of posture and back pain in our children.