Your five-year old might be starting school or your teenager is complaining their back is sore after carrying their bag.
If this is the case we need to ask?
- Is it the right size for their height?
- Is it big enough to carry what they need?
- Will they be wearing it for a long time e.g. waiting to catch the bus?
- Is it comfy are the shoulder straps padded?
It is important to consider these points and what the ‘trade offs’ are for the health of your growing child’s back.
If you drive past a school take a minute to look at the kids walking with their heavy school bag. If they are wearing both straps these are often loose with the bag hanging below their back. Initially when they set off they may look OK, but with each step their posture is changing and their body is adapting to the load.
Changes to their posture
- shoulders are rounded and pulled forward affecting the arm position in the shoulder joint
- head is pulled forward in front of their body
- spine alignment affected causing the curve in the neck to flatten out and the mid-back curve increases (hunched)
- smaller steps taken as body positioned forward affecting the muscle in their hips, knees and ankles
- natural arm and opposite leg swing is reduced which is important for cross patterning
- decreased walking efficiency
- if wearing only one shoulder strap they will get shortening of back and neck muscles on the same side and lengthening of the other.
Over the years there has been an increase in children having neck and back pain. This is down to a number of factors such as our kids being less active, poor posture sitting watching TV or looking at other handheld devices but also due to schools having fewer lockers or desks and carrying more in their bag. Therefore adding a poorly fitted, poorly packed, thin strapped and too big a school bag to the mix isn’t going to help. As a result your child may experience back or neck pain or complain of ‘tingling’ or their arms feeling ‘funny’ from the pressure of the straps pressing on blood vessels and nerves that supply their arms.
There are numerous medical studies that have investigated back pain in children. The research shows that most children start to experience pain at around 11 years of age around the time they start to hit puberty. Other risk factors identified are being female, carrying a heavier weight, a bag that is too big (in proportion to the child) and increasing age. Interestingly they found that wearing one shoulder strap was the same as wearing two.
Unfortunately we can’t stop them growing up or change if they are a girl so we can only influence the bag size and weight. The curves in our spine are developed to enable us to carry greater weight than if it was straight. When we wear a heavy backpack it pulls our shoulders forward and we lose these natural curves and this is true for children, teenagers and adults although as adults we are less flexible in our joints and hopefully our muscles are stronger. This flattening of our spine puts uneven pressure on our vertebrae (bones) but also on our discs (cushions between our vertebrae) which long-term uneven pressure can cause them to bulge and press on our spinal cord (called a herniated disc).
It is recommended that children carry no more than 10 % of their body weight. For most 5 year-old’s with an average weight of 20 Kgs this is only 2 Kgs.
How much is 2 Kgs?
2 Kgs = Lunch box (cheese sandwich (2 slices of bread), apple, yogurt, banana, 2 biscuits), empty drink bottle (500 ml), pencil-case, 2 x 1B4 exercise books, P.E shoes, jumper.
Tips when selecting a school bag
- Choose a bag that is proportional in size – when the straps are fitted the bottom of the bag should sit at the level of the hips
- Shoulder straps should be well padded and wide to help spread the weight and fitted to reduce excess movement
- Teach your child how to adjust their shoulder straps and place heavy items close to their back
- Encourage them to use their locker or their desk to leave things they won’t need for the rest of the day
- Fill their drink bottle at school and empty it before leaving (if they are old enough to do this)