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26 Mar, Sunday
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Montreal Families

Tips for purchasing a school bag

Getting children ready for school often involves multiple treks to the mall for clothes and supplies. While it’s fine to penny-pinch on many things (does your little one really need a designer binder for math class?), you’ll want to invest in a sturdy, properly-fitted backpack for your kids because carrying an overly-heavy or improperly fitting bag can cause back pain and strain.

It’s easy for the problem of a heavy backpack to sneak up on parents and children alike. In the early weeks of school, teachers may assign only minimal homework so students don’t have to lug home many books. But come October, they may be trudging back and forth with a bulging bag on their back.

Serge Orzes, a physiotherapist who is a member of the Ordre professionnel de la physiothérapie du Québec, says a child’s backpack should only be as large as the width of his or her back and the weight of the bag should not exceed 10 per cent of the child’s body weight. “If the child is 60 pounds, then the backpack should not weigh more than six pounds,” Orzes says.

When the knapsack gets too heavy, children may begin to slouch or complain about back pain. Orzes suggests parents should first check to make sure the backpack is of good quality (see sidebar for tips on purchasing one). They should also insist that children wear a backpack correctly, meaning strapped onto the back and not swinging from one shoulder. And, of course, parents can check that what is in the bag is actually needed and necessary. Children have a bad habit of forgetting to remove books and other gear from their bags.

Dr. Surjit Chatterjee, a family physician at Santa Cabrini Hospital in St. Leonard, has seen children brought to the emergency room because of back pain from backpacks. “Some children have reported tingling, numbness in arms and shoulder pain because the straps direct pressure on the child’s body,” he says. If your child is experiencing knapsack-related back pain, it’s important to treat it promptly. “Parents should take precautions by having their kids stretch or have physiotherapy treatment before the pain worsens and pain killers are needed,” he explains.

Tips on buying and carrying a school bag

  • Look for one with wide, padded shoulder straps that will sit comfortably on your child, with the knapsack centered on his or her back. Wider straps will help with weight distribution and will help prevent shoulder pain. Some knapsacks also have waist straps that can make carrying the sack easier.
  • The school bag should be as wide as a child’s back and not hang more than a few centimeters below the waist.
  • Choose one made from lightweight materials to reduce the weight.
  • Consider purchasing a knapsack on wheels, which is usually bigger and sturdier than more traditional ones. Just keep in mind that it can sometimes be difficult to pull it through snow or on ice-covered sidewalks. Your child’s backpack may look monstrous because he or she is carrying too many books, binders and notebooks. Make sure that all the books they are bringing home and taking back to school are needed for that ONE day only, so they are not carrying the entire contents of their locker.
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