Backpacks – how protected is your child’s back?

happy primary school student carrying backpack with classmates aOnce upon a time, back to school meant packing a small leather satchel to carry a few paper text books.

Nowadays, the school bag will often involve textbooks, a musical instrument and a laptop – carried to and from school each day.

And they soon add up to a pretty heavy load.

At the clinic, a common cause for lower back pain in children that we see is through the kind of backpack they carry on a daily basis to school- or how they  carry the backpack itself.

What happens when carrying a backpack?

Using a backpack is a practical way to carry several items although you need to be careful not to overload.

It has been suggested that the maximum recommended weight for a child to carry in a backpack is 15% of their body weight. The body will compensate for any load applied to it for an extended period of time, but an overloaded backpack may lead to:

  • A distortion of the natural curves in the back – leading to irritation of the  joints in the spine and ribcage and strain on the muscles
  • The wearer leaning forward to change their centre of gravity in order to carry the heavy weight – leading to a reduction in balance
  • Rounding of the shoulders due to the weight exerted on them
 Carrying a backpack on one shoulder

Carrying a backpack on one shoulder – or carrying any other type of over the shoulder bag –  can lead to a change in posture as the body tries to even out the distribution of weight. The body (and spine) may lean to the opposite side, putting extra strain on the middle of the back, the ribs and the lower back may have increased pressure on one side more than the other.

This imbalance in the muscles can cause short term back pain.

Several ways to judge whether a backpack is suitable for that daily commute to school:
  •  Shoulder straps – straps should be wide and padded – this prevents any digging into and discomfort in the shoulder muscles, and better weight distribution. They should also be easily adjustable so that the bag can be fitted optimally at each wear
  • Contoured back – this can help the backpack sit better over the curves of the spine and can also allow airflow, helping keep the back cool
  • Waist strap – this can help distribute some of the weight of the backpack more evenly from the shoulders and back to the pelvis
  • Lightweight material – the lighter the backpack empty the less chance of overload
  • Internal compartments and straps – this helps an even distribution of load and preventing items from shifting around in transit.
Top tips when packing your child’s backpack:
  • Pack heavier items first so that they are lowest and closest to the body
  • Evenly distribute the load by filling compartments
  • Make sure sharp and bulky items don’t poke into the back
  • Adjust the shoulder straps so that the backpack is snug to the body and carried high – don’t carry the backpack low and loose

Note: If you need to lean forward when carrying the backpack it is probably too heavy.

Are you concerned about your child’s posture or any niggling back pain?

Often, many regular causes of child back pain can be avoided with the right advice and / or exercises.  Chiropractic care or physiotherapy may also help you.

If you are unsure about your child’s posture or any niggling pains, please call the clinic and reception can arrange for you to speak with one of our practitioners.

Please call 020 8943 2424.

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