Adjust your child’s school bag properly to protect their spine

13 August 2018

children holding hands at school Willow Chiropractic

You’ve probably seen or heard the jokes about Year 7s walking around school with giant bags bigger than they are, but in actual fact this is more than just a fashion nightmare or source of comedy; heavy, oversized backpacks could be ruining their posture. A 2014 study found that children carrying heavier backpacks incorrectly experienced disc compression and lumbar asymmetry, also known as ‘lower back curvature’. There are very simple ways to make sure that your child is using their backpack in a way which won’t harm them.

Our Guide to Correct Backpack Setup

1. The first and arguably most important thing to consider is the style of bag, and how it distributes weight. Backpacks which are carried using both straps are the best kind of bag your child can use (cool kids using one strap, I’m looking at you). When they are packed correctly and carried with the right posture, the weight is evenly distributed and will not force the spine into unnatural positions. Bags carried on one shoulder or across the body, such as satchels and tote bags, cause an asymmetry of the body as your spine overcompensates to counterbalance the weight.

2. Make sure the backpack has padded shoulder straps and a padded back, and be sure to pack the heaviest items so that they lay against your child’s back. Placing heavy items further forward will increase the strain on your child’s neck, which they will in turn over-compensate by straining their neck forwards, causing tightness and soreness. Tilting your head forward by even just 15° effectively adds 7kg of weight onto your spine—that’s the equivalent of two and a half bricks! When you throw a heavy, unbalanced backpack into the mix, that pressure only increases.

3. The backpack needs to fit your child. Yes, bags can be the wrong size! This may sound like a bizarre thing to say, but think of it this way; you wouldn’t buy clothes four sizes too big for your child, so why send them to school with a backpack which is too large? Your child’s backpack should extend from around 2 inches below the shoulders to waist-level.

4. Think carefully about what it is strictly necessary to carry, and omit any unneeded extras. Ask your child exactly which classes or subjects they have on each day and encourage them to only carry the books and stationary needed for those—I’m sure their geography exercise book won’t be too upset at being left behind if it’s not needed! If they really do need a lot (PE and Food Tech on the same day is a killer), speak to the school and see if you can arrange some kind of storage system which will lessen the amount that students carry around all day.

Ask the Professionals

Lacey, a chiropractor at Willow’s Yate clinic, says that “your child’s backpack should be light enough that they can comfortably take it off and place it on a desk without the need for swinging it or letting it fall heavily onto the surface. If it is at all a strain to pick it up and put it on their back, it is too heavy.”

A sensibly and reasonably-packed backpack should not cause pain when carried with the correct posture, backpack position and weight distribution.

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