With Christmas now a distant memory, our children are heading back into school from their well-deserved summer holidays. A big-ticket item heading back into school is the humble backpack. Our kids’ backpacks will soon be filled with books, laptops, electronic tablets, packed lunchboxes, drink bottles, stationery and the list goes on!
Considering all that goes into our sons and daughters’ backpacks, this is a timely reminder to all parents and guardians that if not worn or packed correctly, their backpacks may cause back pain and potential long-term spinal damage. Carrying niggling aches and pains in the neck, mid back or indeed lower back in adulthood often stems from childhood activities including carrying a backpack that is very heavy, for 12 years on average.
There are some cool, fashionable and branded backpacks on the market, but unless they are designed to allow even distribution across the back and shoulders of our kids, they can lead to pain and fatigue.
School is already quite challenging for our children, so a way we as parents can give them the best possible chance of success in their physical and mental development is ensuring they are comfortable carrying their loads on a daily basis.
Researchers, Negrini and Carabalona in 2002 discussed common causes of discomfort for school children and listed carrying the backpack on a daily basis as being a top cause1. Backpacks were considered “heavy” by 79.1% of children, a considerable cause of fatigue by 66% of kids and 46.1% reported backpacks caused their back pain1.
How To Find The Ideal Backpack
When out shopping for a new backpack, take your children with you so they are able to try them on and making sure they fit. The American Chiropractic Association suggests the bag should not hang more than 10cm below their waistlines2.
A backpack or bag that is ‘big’ is not necessarily better for our kids – insist on bags that fit well so your kids can not carry more than what’s needed and also find ones with added compartments to help pack awkwardly-shaped objects efficiently.
Find straps that are padded to provide cushioning and support for their shoulders, not to mention being adjustable. Again, ensure your kids try different bags on to find the ideal fit – preventing strain on their backs and shoulders3.
How to Wear Backpacks Correctly
Kids at different stages of their schooling want to look cool and fit-in with the popular crowd. Using both straps on the shoulders is certainly not as cool (it’s ‘nerdy’ right?) as throwing the backpack over the one shoulder (it’s ‘cool’ and ‘casual’ yes? – Heaven forbid the ‘hipster’ satchel over one shoulder look!) but over the years, these habits can effect changes in posture and gait (how they walk).
Often, all it takes is communicating to your kids – or have a cool Chiropractor, Uncle, Aunt or even a neighbour explain the risks of improper bag wear.
6 Quick Tips for Good Backpack Wear and Happy Spines
The Chiropractors Association of Australia suggests the following to minimise back and shoulder stress and strain on our children4:
Have your children use both straps – wearing a bag (again, heaven forbid they try to convince you to buy them a shoulder bag or satchel!) on one shoulder can cause leaning which may curve the spine over time
backpacks should be no heavier than 10% of a student’s weight when packed
the bag should be broad but no wider than the student’s chest
use waist and chest straps that are attached (even though it may seem unfashionable)
avoid overloading the bag – use lockers at school and plan well, taking only what they need for the next day or two
place heavy and bulky items at the base of the pack, closer to the spine for a good distribution of weight
We take this opportunity to wish your children all the success in their schooling and sporting endeavours.
Dr. Will Duong, Chiropractor at The Triumph Institute
- Negrini, S., & Carabalona, R (2002). Backpacks on! Schoolchildren’s Perceptions of Load, Associations with Back Pain and Factors Determining the Load. Spine, 27(2), 187-195.
- American Chiropractic Association, Backpack Misuse Leads to Chronic Back Pain, Doctors of Chiropractic Say, https://www.acatoday.org/content_css.cfm?CID=65.
- Korovessis P1, Koureas G, Zacharatos S, Papazisis Z. Backpacks, back pain, sagittal spinal curves and trunk alignment in adolescents: a logistic and multinomial logistic analysis. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2005 Jan 15;30(2):247-55.