Updated: May 11
Back to school for most kids in Victoria this week, and because of all the public holidays interfering with the first week back, this usually means more homework. More homework means more books more weight being stuffed into the bags kids are carrying around.
Whilst wanting to build resilience in the next generation, we want to avoid injuries, especially back injuries. Many studies are reporting the effects of heavy school bags on the spine, shoulders, neck and gait (walking pattern).
It isn't that it doesn’t look right for most school-aged kids, it’s the fact that their physical frame, spine and pelvis, are not developed or large enough to support the heavy bags. “There is particular concern for the junior students in secondary schools, as the spine is at a critical stage of development in children between 12 – 14 years of age. This is also the stage at which the bag weight to body weight ratio is likely to be high as some students are still quite small but carry loads similar to larger and older children.”
Heavy school bags are believed to be a major contributing factor in musculoskeletal pain and discomfort. The combined effect of weight, shape, size, how the bag is carried and time spent carrying the bag all have an impact. A general guideline to follow is the schoolbag not to exceed 10% of their body weight. However, the size and placement of the bag is important too.
A general guideline to follow is the schoolbag not to exceed 10% of their body weight.
A study in Dublin found that 65% of discomfort reported were in the shoulders and 30% of discomfort reported in the back. They also reported that the average load carried amongst participants was 18% of body weight, almost double the recommended amount.
An in-field observational study conducted by the Chiropractors Association of Australia reported that “90% of school children have bad posture when carrying their bags and could experience spinal damage as a result, while 75% are not using their backpack’s ergonomic features which could prevent such damage.”
Here are some helpful tips to help avoid any back injuries due to school bags:
Back packs are more appropriate than shoulder bags.
Make sure that the bag straps are in line with the waist or above the hips and both shoulder straps are being used.
Make sure the bag is sturdy, but also not wider than the child’s chest.
For high school students, finding a cd at the back of the textbook and using that at home may be helpful if they are finding they need to carry too many textbooks home.
Placing heavier items at the back of the bag (closer to the spine) for better weight distribution.
Chiropractors are helpful addressing and managing musculoskeletal discomfort and biomechanical changes in relation to heavy school bags in children. If you are concerned about your child’s posture, please click here to make an enquiry.
Dockrella, C. Kanea, E. O’Keeffea. "Schoolbag weight and the effects of schoolbag carriage on secondary school students", a School of Physiotherapy, Trinity Centre for Health Sciences, Trinity College Dublin.
Clare Haselgrove, Leon Straker, Anne Smith, Peter O’Sullivan, Mark Perry, Nick Sloan (2008). " school bag load, duration of carriage, and method of transport to school are associated with spinal pain in adolescents: an observational study", 2011 Australian Journal of Physiotherapy 2008;54(3): pp193–200.
Negrini S Carabolona R and Sibilla P (1999). "Backpack as a daily load for schoolchildren," The Lancet. 354 (1999) 1974.
Hong Y and Li J (2005). "Influence of load and carrying methods on gait phase and ground reactions in children’s stair walking", Gait and Posture. 2005;22: pp63-68.
vanGent, Dols J DeRover, Hira Sing, and De Vet.Spine (2003)."The weight of schoolbags and the occurrence of neck, shoulder, and back pain in young adolescent", 2003; 28:pp916-921.
Sheir-Neiss G Kruse R Rahman T Jacobson L and Pelli J. Spine (2003). "The association of backpack use and back pain in adolescents", 28 (2003) 922-930.
Chiropractors’ Association of Australia ‘Backpack use among Australian School Children’ Fact Sheet