So it’s back to school again. Along with the excitement brought about by the opening of the academic year— new clothes, shoes, lessons and activities, it is also very common to see kids carrying oversized backpacks on their shoulders. A typical bag of school children contains textbooks, writing materials including notebooks, pens, markers, paper, and organizers; as well as lunch, snacks, water bottles, and gym clothes among others.
Now, the weight of these items combined could easily add up to a minimum of 10kilos! Seemingly harmless? Unfortunately, this is mostly too heavy for a child’s tiny and underdeveloped body that it puts a lot of strain on his or her back that could lead to spinal, neck, joint, shoulder, and muscle injury. Many studies support that a heavy backpack along with how a child carries it poses major health risks including the following:
- Increased likelihood of falls
- Chronic back, neck, and shoulder pain
- Poor posture
The Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) recommends that a school backpack should weigh no more than 10 percent in reference to a child’s body weight. That is, a student weighing 35kilos should be carrying no more than 3.5kilos on his or her back.
In 2011, the Chiropractors Association of Australia (CAA) conducted an in-field observational study on backpack use among Australian school children and revealed that parents estimate that children carry almost double the maximum recommended backpack weight to school.
- 90% have bad posture when carrying their bags and could result to spinal damage, but 50% of the parents felt their child’s posture was good.
- 75% are not using their backpack’s ergonomic features which could prevent spinal damage
(Full details from the study fact sheet can be downloaded via http://chiropractors.asn.au)
Moreover, an international study indicates that daily backpack carrying is a major cause of discomfort in school children where:
- 79.1% of children finds their backpack heavy
- 65.7% feels it causes fatigue
- 46.1% reports it causes back pain
- Lift and wear backpacks properly. That is, face the bag, bend at the knees, use both hands to check its weight, and lift with the legs. Moreover, slinging it on one shoulder is discouraged so always wear on both with heavier items at the bottom of the bag closest to the spine for even weight distribution.
- Choose the appropriate backpack. Size: the bag should measure to around 75% of the child’s back length and no wider than his or her chest; Straps: wide, padded, adjustable shoulder and waist straps as well as adjustable and elastic chest straps; Other features: hand grab, multiple compartments that can be closed and opened separately, moulded back support, and padded back surface.
- Check backpack weight. If the child is forced to lean forward in order to carry the bag, it is indicative of overloading. Parents should also see to it that kids only bring items necessary for school and remove unnecessary stuff. Otherwise, check for the availability of secure lockers at school.
Benefits of Seeing a Chiropractor
Many school age children have been enduring long term lifting of overloaded backpacks, exposing them to chronic musculoskeletal risks. This has a direct impact on one’s academic and social behavior. Thus, seeing a chiropractor before the school year starts is highly encouraged to have a child’s spinal health assessed. This way, any existing problem may be addressed early to prevent complications, as well as help ensure that parents are raising well-rounded and healthy individuals.