Are School Bags Too Heavy for Children’s Developing Spines?

Is children’s spine development being hindered by the weight of school bags?
You’ve all seen the image of the little school child with the backpack bigger than them?
Have you ever picked up your child’s school bag and almost dislocated your shoulder, as you feel like you just attempted to pick up a bag filled with bricks? If it’s too heavy for you, how do you think your child carries it around? The weight of these school bags can have a detrimental effect on young developing spines.

Our children undergo many growth spurts throughout their life and are faced with constant daily stressors consisting of; emotional, chemical and physical stressors. As they grow, their body has to deal with these different types of stressors all the time. When those stressors occur regularly, or are extreme, the body starts to struggle against it and eventually can’t cope with it anymore. This causes pain, injuries and micro trauma to occur which could result in long term damage. The Physical stressors are a big component, as children run around, fall over, play sports, go to school and carry a heavy backpack.There has been an increase in the documented studies where they have found a direct correlation of the effects of a heavy school bag resulting in spinal, shoulder and neck pain. It was also found that the participants of the study had a significant alteration of their gait (walking) cycle.1,2,3,4,5,6.

As a general rule, your child’s backpack should not weigh any more than 10% of their body weight, this is due to their skeletal structure still developing. A weight greater than that, has the ability to cause injury, fatigue, pain, and postural conditions. It is not only the weight alone that causes the problem, but it is also the ill-fitting backpacks some students have, the bag shape, size and the amount of time carrying the bag are all contributors.

A study performed in Dublin found that “The mean load carried was 18% of body weight.” That’s almost twice the recommended amount! “It is of some concern,” the study continued, “that throughout the school week, a total of 68% of schoolbags weighed greater than the approximate guideline of 10% bodyweight with the maximum schoolbag weight, on one occasion, found to be 30% of the carrier’s bodyweight.” All students reported discomfort levels as being high and this increased as the week progressed. In a study conducted by the Chiropractors’ Association of Australia, it was revealed that: “90 per cent of school children have bad posture when carrying their bags and could experience spinal damage, while 75 per cent are not using their backpack’s ergonomic features which could prevent such damage”

From those results and many more, it is vital for you to understand the significant stress your child’s backpack could be placing on their body. There are many ways to help your child minimise the stressors as they simply cannot leave their school books at home much to their disappointment. The Chiropractic Association of Australia has compiled 9 ways in which you can help reduce the postural stress due to the heaviness of the backpack.

1. Backpacks should be ideally no heavier than 10% of a student’s weight when packed.

2. Make sure the backpack is sturdy and appropriately sized – no wider than the student’s chest

3. Choose a backpack with broad, padded shoulder straps

4. Use both shoulder straps – never sling the pack over one shoulder

5. The straps should be shortened until the bottom of the backpack is just above the child’s waist, and not sitting on their buttocks.

6. When the straps are shortened to this level, the backpack should lie flat on the child’s back.

7. Use waist straps.

8. Don’t overload the backpack – use school lockers and plan homework well in advance

9. Place all heavy items at the base of the pack, close to the spine, for a better distribution of the weight

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1. Schoolbag weight and the effects of schoolbag carriage on secondary school students. Dockrella, C. Kanea, E. O’Keeffea a School of Physiotherapy, Trinity Centre for Health Sciences, Trinity College Dublin,

2. Perceived school bag load, duration of carriage, and method of transport to school are associated with spinal pain in adolescents: an observational study. Clare Haselgrove, Leon Straker, Anne Smith, Peter O’Sullivan, Mark Perry, Nick Sloan 2011 Australian Journal of Physiotherapy Volume 54, Issue 3, 2008, Pages 193–200

3. Backpack as a daily load for schoolchildren. Negrini S Carabolona R and Sibilla P. The Lancet. 354 (1999) 1974.

4. Influence of load and carrying methods on gait phase and ground reactions in children’s stair walking. Hong Y and Li J. Gait and Posture. 22 (2005) 63-68.

5. The weight of schoolbags and the occurrence of neck, shoulder, and back pain in young adolescents. vanGent, Dols J DeRover, Hira Sing, and De Vet.Spine. 28 (2003) 916-921.

6. The association of backpack use and back pain in adolescents. Sheir-Neiss G Kruse R Rahman T Jacobson L and Pelli J. Spine. 28 (2003) 922-930.

7. Chiropractors’ Association of Australia ‘Backpack use among Australian School Children’ Fact Sheet