If your child is coming home from school with an aching head or neck, chances are it has little to do with the classroom.

Unsuitable and poorly fitting backpacks, filled with heavy books and stationery, are said to be one of the major causes of back and neck pain, poor posture and headaches among school children.

These make children lean forward, reducing balance, while having more serious long-term implications, such as poor posture, rounding of the shoulders and distortion of the natural curves in the middle and lower back.

Muscle imbalances result in muscle strain, muscle spasm and back pain that can last into adulthood. Overloaded school bags also pull on neck muscles, contributing to headache, neck and arm pain.

A recent study published in the Australian Spine Journal indicated that up to 70 percent of Australian children suffered back pain as a result of heavy and unsuitable school bags.

An investigation by the Department of Occupational Therapy at the University of the Free State compared posture in children who carried heavy school bags with those who didn’t.

It found that children carry their school bags for an average of 30 minutes a day.

Emphasising that a child’s spine is still developing during the school years, researchers said that lifting the occasional heavy weight would not cause damage but continually carrying a heavy weight would cause longer-term problems as over burdened youngsters were forced to either bend to the side, backwards or forwards.

Soon, these postural changes were evident when a child was not carrying a heavy bag. Worse still, teenage schoolchildren had higher levels of spinal deviation than pre-teens, indicating that problems accumulated.

Make an informed decision when selecting your child’s school bag and ensure that your child carries it properly.

Don’t try to save money by buying the biggest backpack you can find – rather ensure the backpack is appropriate to your child’s size.

Adjust the shoulder straps so that the bottom of the backpack is just above your child’s waist – don’t allow your youngster to wear a backpack slung low over his buttocks.

Choose a backpack with a moulded frame so that the weight of the filled backpack rests on your child’s pelvis, instead of on her shoulders and spine.

When fitted correctly, the backpack should contour snugly into your child’s back, rather than hang off his shoulders.


The shoulder straps should be adjustable and both straps and the rear of the backpack should be padded for comfort. When thin shoulder straps dig into the shoulders, children often compensate for the discomfort by hooking their thumbs under the straps, rounding their backs, contracting their chest muscles and tilting forward.

Never allow the backpack to be carried over one shoulder because the child will lean to the opposite side, putting stress on the middle back, ribs and lower back.

Remember that the weight of the backpack, once it has been filled, should not carry more than 10 percent of your child’s body weight.

Buy bags with sections to help distribute weight correctly. Pack the heaviest items closest to your child’s back.

Regularly ask your child if his backpack is causing fatigue or pain. If so, lighten the load and adjust the fittings.

Regularly clean out young children’s backpacks, and encourage older children to do so, to ensure that they are not carrying unnecessary, heavy items. - The Mercury