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Get Ahead Kids - Vol. 4, No. 2 - March/April 2012

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Minimise the Pain of Backpacks

By Dorte Bladt

School holidays are great: time to unwind, lose the daily routines, have fun frolicking on the beach, bike riding, skate boarding and spending time with family and friends.

Going back to school can be a real pain in more ways than one!

According the Chiropractic Association of Australia (CAA), daily backpack carrying is a frequent cause of pain and discomfort for school children:

  • 79.1% of children felt school backpacks were heavy
  • 65.7% found school backpacks caused fatigue
  • 46.1% found they caused back pain

A recent study revealed that the children themselves may exacerbate the problems by not using the backpack correctly.

  • 75% of Australian schoolchildren do not use the ergonomic features built into their school backpacks
  • 79% of school bags are full to the point of being over-packed & bulging
  • 90% of school children have bad posture while carrying their school bags

Bad posture may be the result of leaning forward trying to cope with the heavy bag, using just one strap or carrying the bag too low. Negative effects of poor posture include:

  • Stress child's nervous system
  • Pressure on bones & joints
  • Discomfort due to muscle strain
  • Increased vulnerability to injuries
  • Can result in degeneration in the spine & extremities

As parents it is important to minimise the strain on our children's delicate spines and bodies. Backpacks, for all their bad press are a better choice compared to briefcases, duffel bags or one-strap bags. Worn correctly a backpack distributes the load to the strongest parts of the body, with the least strain on muscles and posture.

When you choose a backpack for your child or yourself, CAA has the following recommendations:

  • Two wide, padded & comfortable shoulder straps
  • Waist belt which fits so the weight rests on your pelvis
  • The backpack should be no wider than the chest
  • The length of the pack should be no longer than the length from the shoulders to the waist
  • Adjustable straps so bag will sit with the top at shoulder height & the bottom at the waist
  • The bag should feature several compartments for easy packing

Once you have chosen the most comfortable bag, help your child to pack the bag sensibly:

  • Backpacks should weigh 10% or less of your child's body weight
  • Plan what is needed each day, &
    leave what is not needed in a locker or at home
  • Place heavier items on the bottom of the bag, as close to the spine as possible
  • Reinforce the importance of wearing the bag on both shoulders.

Many of the more fashionable backpack brands do not have the ergonomic features recommended for optimum posture and spinal health.

It is important not to give in and purchase the trendy backpacks. It is often possible to purchase decals of the popular surf and skate brands which may then be sewn on to a pocket of the bag to make the ergonomic ones more fashionable.

I see many kids who complain of lower back and shoulder/neck problems when they go back to school. I check their spines to see if there is any abnormal pressure on their joints, muscles or nerves and gently correct if needed and suggest exercises which help strengthen the spine and shoulders as well as increasing awareness of spinal posture.

One such exercise is called the Angel:

Have the child standing with his/her back against a wall. Flex the elbows to 90 degrees with both hands and elbows touching the wall. Slowly raise the arms to bring the hands above the head until the hands meet. Once the hands meet, slowly glide the arms down again until the elbows touch the side of the body. Repeat 10 times.

When performing this exercise the child will feel a gentle movement and contraction of the muscles between the shoulder blades. These muscles are most important for proper posture, and the amazing fact is that they also stimulate an area in the brain which is responsible for both learning and concentration. So they get double the benefit!

More Information

Dorte Bladt
Doctor of Chiropractic
Family Chiropractic Centre Charlestown
2 Lincoln St, Charlestown NSW 2290
P: 02 4942 4842


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