Choosing the right school bag for your child: Tips for parents
Because if you don't choose carefully, your child could end up with a very painful back. Read this article for some great information, including expert advice from orthopaedic surgeon Dr Siow Hua Ming.
When your child starts school, his backpack becomes a crucial part of his daily routine. Your child’s school bag stays with your child from morning to afternoon and carries school essentials: books, water and food.
Because kids associate their backpacks to some extent with their identity at school, many of them prefer ‘cool’ schoolbags that highlight their interests and personality.
But, as easy as it is to gravitate towards buying the backpack of your child’s dreams, it’s so important that parents choose one carefully. Why? Because a poor quality backpack loaded with heavy books will almost certainly cause damage to your child’s back and spine over time.
According to the results of a study published in The Journal of Orthapedics, most of 3,500 students who took part in it reported some kind of back pain related to the weight of their school bags.
What should you keep in mind when choosing a good school bag for your child; one that won’t damage your kid’s back and cause him pain? What are the signs of back damage/injury you need to look out for in your child? How do you treat a child with back injury caused by a heavy schoolbag?
Heavy, poorly fitted school bags and health issues
A poorly fitted school bag can result in uneven weight distribution and excessive contact pressures in the wrong areas, explains Dr Siow.
Also, a backpack that is too heavy can cause excessive contact pressures as well as throw the child off balance. This, says Dr Siow, causes the child to compensate by countering the load and putting increased strain on their spines and core muscles.
More health issues caused by a too-heavy school bag include rounding of the shoulders and distortion to the natural curves in the lower and middle backs. This may cause muscle pain and irritation to the rib cage and spine joints.
A heavy backpack can also pull on the neck muscles, contributing to headache, shoulder pain, lower back pain, and/or neck and arm pain.
More back and spine issues may arise if your child’s tendency is to carry his backpack on just one shoulder. Medical experts claim that this causes an uneven weight on your child’s body, causing him to strain his muscles in order to carry this weight.
What happens when only one shoulder is used to carry a heavy backpack is that the spine twists to the opposite side, which stresses the middle back, ribs and lower back more on one side of the body than the other.
Short-terms issues arising from this imbalance may be muscle spasm and strain and back pain. In the longer term, if not corrected, it could result in back problems.
How do you know if your child’s school bag is too heavy? And what should you keep in mind when choosing a school bag for your child? Head to the next page to find out.
Is my child’s bag too heavy? Red flags to look out for
Parents, watch out for these signs in your child:
- Unbalanced gait
- Uneven gait
- Excessive hunching of the spine while carrying the bag
- Pain during or after carrying the school bag
Any one or a combination of these signs could be an indication that you child’s schoolbag is too heavy. If you do notice any of these signs, adjust or change your child’s schoolbag (see tips below) or speak to a doctor for advice.
Rectifying these problems
The good news is that with some simple adjustments to your child’s school bag, you can help ease some of the issues that arise because of a poorly fitted or heavy backpack.
According to Dr Siow, a poorly fitted school bag can usually be adjusted such that the load is evenly balanced between the shoulders and the heaviest items are toward the bottom of the bag. This will keep the bag’s centre of gravity closer to the child’s centre of gravity, allowing them to carry the bag and move more easily.
Meanwhile, an overly heavy bag can be resolved by taking out materials and books which are not needed for class that day. It helps if the school is able to provide lockers, so children do not need to bring heavy books to school every day.
However, any amount of adjusting your child’s school bag won’t relieve the pain if the bag is of poor quality which is why it’s important to know what to look out for when choosing a good school bag for your child.
Choosing the right schoolbag for your child
Mums and dads, keep these tips in mind when selecting a schoolbag for your child:
- The most comfortable school bags are the haversack (backpack) types, says Dr Siow, rather than the shoulder sling or hand strap types. A backpack allows more weight to be carried (if needed) more comfortably.
- Choose a bag with proper padding of the shoulder straps and at the base of the bag where it sits against the spine. The shoulder straps should be wide and when the bag is put on, it should sit firmly against your child’s body and not tilt down.
- Chest and waist straps can be useful if the bag is heavy.
- Sizing depends on the length of the spine. Generally the length of the bag against the spine should be between half to the same length as the spine. The bottom of the bag should sit above the waistline.
- Choose a wheeler bag for your preschooler as they lack the strength to carry heavy bags.
- When lifting backpacks, teach your child how to bend at his knees and pick it up, while minimising twisting too much to put on the backpack.
- Teach your child to always pack the heavier books toward the bottom of the bag in order bring the centre of gravity lower. This helps in balance and eases the load on the shoulders.
- Check your child’s backpack often to make sure they are not taking unnecessary items to school. Teach them how to be organised and sort out what they need to take to school every evening.
- Encourage your child to check if the straps of his bag need readjusting every time he wear it. This is because what he carries in will change daily and so will the weight, therefore, this adjustment is necessary.
- If your child’s backpack appears to be too heavy on certain days (watch them to see if they struggle when putting the bag on), have him carry some of the books in his arms.
- The maximum weight a school bag should be is dependent on your child’s age. But, it should not be so heavy that they need two hands to pick it up and they should be able to walk 1-2 bus stop distances without getting tired or aching backs. Ideally, the maximum weight of a fully loaded backpack should not be more than 10 to 20 percent of your child’s body weight.
Parents, do keep the following important advice from Dr Siow in mind:
“Please petition your school for lockers if they do not have them for students. With the growing reliance on e-learning and worksheets instead of textbook and workbooks, there should not be a need to carry heavy textbooks to school every day.
“Do also ask if the work can be completed in school rather than brought home. Do remind your child to file their worksheets and school notices on a weekly basis.”
Finally, if your child is experiencing recurring back pain, see a health professional with delay. Remember to take your child’s backpack with you to ascertain if this is the cause of the problem.