Back to School and to Back Pain?

Back pain is usually a condition we associate with growing older, however more and more children and youth are reporting discomfort and poor posture, which goes hand in hand with back and neck pain. The question is why? Diaan Jooste, our Physiotherapist joined me in studio to explain.

In many cases, the cause of back pain is the result not being active and carrying excessive loads to and from school in an ill-fitting backpack and sitting in desks that is not comfortable and encouraging good posture.

An Australian study found that heavily loaded backpacks (on average loaded with more than five kilograms) were responsible for posture problems that may cause neck and back pain and could lead to permanent spinal damage in later life.

These days our children’s bodies are also slaves to fashion, for eg. carrying your bag over one shoulder and stand with their back slumped and a hip sticking out to the one side, because they have an image to uphold.  And the reality is that they are also more entertained by media and playstation and x-box than being involved in some sort of physical activities.

Back-to-school doesn’t have to mean a return to back pain for students carrying overloaded school bags.  It is important to invest in a good backpack that is fitted well and as a parents you have to take a proactive approach in helping your children develop good posture and a healthy back from a young age.

Choosing the Right Back Pack

Lets look at some key features to look out for when choosing a backpack for your child:

  • A lightweight pack that doesn’t add a lot of weight to your child’s load.
  • Choose a bag with two wide, adjustable, padded shoulder straps; straps that are too narrow can dig into shoulders.
  • A padded back, which not only provides increased comfort, but also protects kids from being poked by sharp edges on objects   (pencils, rulers, notebooks, etc.) inside the pack.
  • A waist belt, which helps to distribute the weight more evenly across the body.
  • Multiple compartments, which can help distribute the weight more evenly.

Choosing the Correct Size

  •  The top of the backpack should not be any more than 3cm (1inch) higher than the shoulders so that your child can look up at the ceiling without hitting it.
  • The bottom of the bag should be slightly lower than the iliac crest (that bony part of your waist you can put your hands on top of).
  • If  your child’s bag has a waist strap, it should wrap around the body just below this crest. It allows some of the bags weight to be taken by the hips, lightening the load on the back and shoulders.
  • Some bags may also feature the sternal strap, which joins the two shoulder straps. To help take strain off the shoulders it should be positioned 6cm below the collarbone.
How to Fit Your Childs School Bag

Ideally, the centre of mass of a pack should be at waist height.

Adjusting the Straps:

The straps should be tight enough so that the bag is held against the torso. shouldn’t be leaning away, leaving a gap between the back of the shoulders and the bag, and shouldn’t have room to swing around.
It mustn’t be so tight that it’s uncomfortable or digs in to the underarms.

Here are a couple of extra tips to take note of:

  • Don’t overload your bag – a child should not carry more than 10-15% of their body weight.  It helps to plan ahead so they don’t carry unnecessary books to school.  Lockers
  •  Place the heaviest items closest to your body / back.
  • Position books in such a way that they don’t slide inside your pack – it becomes unbalanced.
  • Always wear both shoulder straps.
  • Shoulder straps should be well-padded to prevent too much pressure on the shoulders and necks.
  • Adjust straps so that pack fit snugly to the back. The bottom of the pack should rest in the curve of the lower back. The bottom of the pack should not be higher than 10cm below the waistline.
  • If the pack has a waistband, use it. This belt helps to distribute the pack’s weight more evenly.
  • Stand and walk up straight – hold your head high!  Not just at school but at home as well when watching TV or playing computer games.
  • Sit up straight, buttocks in the corner of the seat, head up and your back fully supported.
  • Don’t sit with your legs tucked underneath you on the seat.

If your children are displaying poor posture or complaining of back pain, get some advice from your Physiotherapist. If you are in the Nelson Mandela Bay and would like to chat to Diaan Jooste pop in at 339 Cape Road, PE or give her a call on 041 365 3535 to make an appointment.