Mind your back when picking a bag

Tips and tricks for choosing a backpack that will help protect children's backs

Lugging around a heavy backpack can be tough on a young back, so it’s important to pick one that will minimize the negative impact.

Kids often pay more attention to trends than health, which could explain the soaring popularity of the Jansport bag, which comes in .a variety of colours and patterns but lacks back-friendly features.

“It’s easy to go with what everyone is wearing,” said Shriners Hospital physiotherapist Gloria Thevasagayam. “Most people don’t think about what they do to their bodies until something happens to them.”

Physiotherapist and osteopath Alida Farrell says that back problems developed in childhood could carry into adulthood as damage to the back compounds. To lessen the risk, she recommends having a backpack with chest and waist straps, plus appropriate shoulder straps and back padding. Most of these features are missing on popular Jansport bags.

“Ideally, you want the load to be as close to your body as possible”, Farrell said. The total weight of the bag and its contents should not exceed 15 per cent of the child’s body weight. And using only one of a backpack’s straps is a potentially dangerous habit.

“Back health is often neglected when choosing (a school bag),” Farrell added. “We go for looks or colour, but the bag is empty when you try it, so it’s easy not to get an accurate test of comfort.” Farrell recommends avoiding backpacks on wheels because the twisting and asymmetry of the body caused by pulling it behind you can be detrimental. It also encourages carrying more, instead of learning to minimize.

In addition to a properly fitting backpack, chiropractor Sima Goel highlighted the importance of daily exercise and healthy food to maintain proper nervous system function and back health. Stress causes tension in the nervous system, which can have a compressive effect on the spine.

Thevasagayam discusses the importance of standing and sitting postures with each of her patients.

“(In standing position) the head shouldn’t be too forward, the shoulders should be a little more back, and the back should be a little more straight than curved,” she said.

Any kind of compression, like a heavy school bag, can be damaging to the back. This effect is compounded by poor posture and sitting positions. It is tempting for kids to pick a school bag based on popularity, just make sure that it also has features to protect their backs.

Tips and tricks to help protect young backs

  • When sitting, use a rolled up sweatshirt for lumbar support and remember to sit upright with your hips and knees at a 90-degree angle.
  • Every half hour to an hour, teachers should have students stand up and shake their bodies out to interrupt their extended sitting position.
  • Parents should check the fit and adjustment of their child’s backpack regularly and ask them about potential pain. They should also work with teachers to find ways of minimizing their load.
  • Consult a specialist if your child is experiencing any pain or discomfort in their back or shoulders.