School bags and back health.

September 10th, 2019
Is your child’s backpack damaging their spine?
As children up and down the country return to school after the summer break, few parents consider the rucksacks into which they are packing their weighty books and healthy lunches. Yet, school bags are responsible for a rise in back problems among school-age children.
A child is constantly growing. Putting any restrictions on their growth may lead to them feeling pain in their limbs and joints and could potentially cause damage. It is generally understood that poor fitting or inappropriate footwear can cause permanent damage to a growing child. However, we rarely exercise similar caution with the school bags that our children use every day of the week.

School bags: an overlooked problem?
A study carried out by BackCare, a charitable organisation which promotes the better understanding of spinal injuries, discovered that children up and down the UK are experiencing spinal problems due to the sheer weight of their school rucksacks. By the time the average child in the United Kingdom reaches the age of sixteen, there is a 50:50 chance they have carried a rucksack which is too heavy for them. Every year, up to four million children are walking with bags too heavy for them (which could potentially cause physical damage to their spines).

So, how much should a child carry?
Scientists have calculated the maximum a child should be able to carry around without causing any damage is around 10% of their own body weight. If they carry up to 15% of their body weight there is a risk they will develop back problems as they grow older. In a national bag survey by BackCare, the highest risk group of 11-12 year olds were found to be carrying on average around 13% of their body weight. (And, in some cases, some children were found to be carry up to 60% of their own body weight!)

Obviously, in these cases action is needed – so why is this such a problem?

Well, carrying such a high percentage of one’s body weight over a period of even a very short time will have a detrimental effect. Around 120,000 under-16s consult a health professional for back pain each year. Backpacks and rucksacks are now more commonly worn on one shoulder only, doubling the loading on one side of the body, and potentially even creating further problems in the child’s neck and hips.
As with much advice, there are a few common sense ways to minimise the risk of your child carrying too much.

Speak with your child about their daily requirements for school. For example, they may not need to take so many books in every day. They may also have access to lockers at school, which would prevent the need for carting everything around on their backs. Judging from our experience they need encouragement to clear out the debris that collects at the bottom of their bag!

Make sure your child is wearing their backpack properly. Heavier books should be stacked at the back, closest to their spine, and the straps should be pulled tightly so the rucksack cannot easily move up and down when your child is wearing it. This ensures any weight your child has to carry will be equally distributed across your child’s entire frame, rather than concentrated on one point which could then become sore.

Keep an eye on your child’s posture. The way a person sits often reveals how their back feels, and many children often do not like to complain about little aches and pains. If they are continuously slouching, or shuffling on their bottom as they sit down, they are probably trying to find a position which is more comfortable. If you see behaviour like this, gently ask them if their back is sore. Sitting with one foot tucked under their bottom can also be a sign to watch out for.
Still concerned about your child’s back health?
If you are concerned your child is suffering from back problems, we can help.

Well Adjusted Health is supporting BackCare awareness by offering free 15 minute appointments where we can assess posture and give advice on carrying safely.

We’re experienced in dealing with back pain in all ages but taking action sooner rather than later is key to ensuring there is no damage in young developing bodies.

Mark Jones from Well Adjusted Health, a specialist in musculoskeletal problems, suggested: 'We are seeing increasing numbers of young adults coming for treatment in relation to back trouble, awareness of what they are carrying to school on a daily basis could really help relieve the strain.'

If you have a specific question regarding any pain or problem areas, or would like to book a Free Back Check for your or your child please call Well Adjusted Health on 01903 892171
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