When was the last time that you checked the weight of your child’s school bag? One of my patients was telling me that when she handed her son his school bag last week she was convinced that it must have been full of bricks. It got me thinking that perhaps I should repeat my concerns and advice about heavy school bags.
Frequently carrying overly heavy school bags has a serious impact on your child’s spine – putting them at risk of pain now and pain in the future. Heavy bags can cause your child to arch their back or lean their head and torso forward and hunch the shoulders to compensate for the weight of the bag. These postures can stress the neck and back muscles increasing the risk of fatigue and injury.
A healthy spine has gentle curves in it that allow you to move, bend and twist. Heavy bags can cause these natural curves to become distorted which in turn can irritate the spinal joints and the rib cage.
It may be cooler to wear a backpack slung over one shoulder but sitting out on sports due to back pain and developing a hunched posture isn’t cool either. Wearing a bag only on one shoulder may cause your child to lean to one side to compensate for the weight. This imbalance may cause stress on one side of the body, cause uneven development of muscles and poor posture which can lead to pain in the shoulders, upper back and neck.
If your child experiences any pain or discomfort resulting from carrying heavy school bags call your local chiropractically trained health care practitioner for a spinal check up. In addition to treating spinal problems, your practitioner can also prescribe exercises designed to help children develop strong muscles, along with instruction in good nutrition, posture and sleeping habits.
Choosing a bag
- Choose a lightweight bag so you are not adding unnecessarily to the weight.
- Forget satchels and choose a backpack that has two wide, padded shoulder straps.
- The bag should not be wider than your child’s torso.
- A bag with different compartments means that it can be packed so that items do not shift around in the bag as your child walks.
- Don’t opt for a large bag – it will only encourage them to fill it.
Packing the bag
- Your child shouldn’t be carrying more than 5 to 10 per cent of their body weight (set a maximum weight for the bag and test it on the bathroom scales).
- Get your child to audit their school bag contents each night. Do they need absolutely everything the following day? Can anything be left in a school locker or at home?
- Make sure that pointy or bulky items are packed away from the area of the bag that rests on their back. Ideally choose a bag with a padded section where it lies across your child’s back.
- The heavier items should be packed first in the bottom of the bag so that they are carried lower and closer to the body.
Lifting the bag
- Lifting the bag properly is crucial in avoiding injuries and strain. Your child should face the bag and then bend at the knees lift the bag with both hands keeping it close to their body. The key point is that they learn to lift with their legs and not their back. Then carefully they should put on one strap at a time and ensure the bag feels snug against their back.
Wearing the bag
- Straps should be adjusted so that the bag is held close to the back and the weight is evenly distributed.
- The backpack should never hang more than 4 inches below the waistline.
- The bag should always be worn with both shoulder straps on.
- Ask your child to tell you if they start to feel pain or discomfort in their back, neck, hips or shoulders.
- Encourage your child to take regular exercise that works on stabilising the lower back and abdominal muscles (eg yoga).
- Regular postural exercises will massively help in preventing problems from occurring and I passionately believe that prevention is far easier than trying to “fix” something once the damage has already been done.
For more information on stretching and postural exercises you should have everyone doing please see. http://www.spinalcarecentre.co.uk/pages/members/ReliefPhase.html