Back to school with the right backpack principles

With term 1 definitely into full swing, it is a good time to review your children’s backpacks to ensure healthy wearing habits are forming for the new school year.  I can remember back to when I was in high school in particular, where it was “uncool” if we didn’t slug our backpacks around on only one shoulder.  These backpacks, which often had minimal support features that bags these days have, would be weighted down with numerous folders and text books for the day’s learning.

To ensure our children form the best school bag carrying habits, recommendations from the Australian Physiotherapy Association’s Paediatric Group Chair, Julianne Pegler are:

  • Choose a backpack with wide shoulder straps that sit well on the shoulder.
  • Ensure waist and chest straps help transfer some of the load to the hips and pelvis.
  • A padded back-support will allow the pack to fit ‘snugly’ on the back.
  • Ensure the backpack fits the child; don’t buy a big pack to ‘grow’ into—the pack should not extend higher than the child’s shoulders when sitting.
  • Be aware that moderately weighted backpacks are not detrimental to kids’ back health.
  • Avoid swinging backpacks around.

The two key factors regarding the transfer of weight from the contents of the backpack to the wearer are

  1. how much weight (downward force) is placed on the wearer’s shoulders/back/pelvis, and
  2. how much leverage (rotational force) does the backpack place on the wearer’s pelvis/back/shoulders.

Whilst we can get backpacks that have support features through the backrest of the bag and great shoulder/waist straps, these are of little use if the wearer does not wear the backpack correctly (as I did for 6 of the best years in high school).  When our kids start to get into years that require the carrying of hefty text books, look for backpacks that have a waist strap, as this will greatly assist in transferring the weight directly to the pelvis and reduce the leverage forces on the spine.  A further tip is to pack heavier items closer to the backrest to reduce the leverage across the shoulder straps.

To know whether your child’s backpack is too heavy, look for these signs:

  • It’s difficult for your child to put on or take off their backpack.
  • Your child reports having pain or tingling or numbness in arms from wearing it.
  • Strap marks show on your child’s shoulders.
  • Your child’s posture changes significantly, most notably they lean forwards excessively while wearing it.

By keeping these things in mind and encouraging our children to wear their backpacks correctly, we can reduce the strains and pains that may occur from poorly fitting backpacks or poorly carried loads.



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