Back to School and heavy schoolbags

Posted on September 07, 2014
in  by Dr. Tammy Verlaan-Ross

Carrying a heavy bag on the back causes forward leaning and bad posture, which can lead to improper weight bearing on the spine, and pains and aches in the back and shoulders.  Carrying a backpack weighing over 15% of body weight makes a child or adolescent unable to maintain proper standing posture.   Children who use one strap bags (which put weight on one shoulder only) can cause asymmetric weight distribution and sideways deviation of the spine (scoliosis).  Forward bending of the spine (also called kyphotic posture) due to the excessive weight of the bags makes the work of breathing harder.  In a recent study it was found that children carrying bags weighing more than 10% of their body weight have been found to have poorer lung function.
 
Tips for proper wear of backpacks:
  • Lighten the load. Keep the load at 10-15% or less of the child’s bodyweight. 
  • Carry only those items that are required for the day
  • Use lockers to store unneeded books or kit
  • Organize the contents of the backpack by placing the heaviest items closest to the back 
  • Wear both straps: Use of one strap causes one side of the body to bear the weight of the backpack. 
  • Pay close attention to the way the backpack is positioned, it should rest evenly in the middle of the back and not below the hips
  • Adjust the shoulder straps correctly
  • Remove and put on backpacks carefully: Keep the trunk of your body stable and avoid excessive twisting
  • Bend at the knees with the back straight when lifting the bag  
 
Ergonomically designed features that enhance safety and comfort: 
  • A padded back to reduce pressure on the back and shoulders and enhance comfort
  • Hip and chest belts to transfer some of the backpack weight to the hips and torso 
  • Multiple compartments to better distribute the weight and for easy access
  • Reflective material to enhance visibility and safety
  • Design made of light weight material
  • Broad padded or 'S' shape straps to distribute the weight
  • Trolley/Wheeled bags to unload the back
 
Parents should look out for the following warning signs of excessive backpack weight: 
  • change in posture when wearing the backpack; 
  • struggling when putting on or taking off the backpack; 
  • Back, neck or shoulder pain
  • Neurological signs such as tingling and numbness in the arms and hands
  • red marks on the shoulders
 
Carrying a school bag is a necessity, however by following these guidelines parents can make it safer and a more back and child friendly experience.