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Physiotherapist’s guide to fitting backpacks

Published: 16 July 2019 - Children’s Physio, Physio Tips

Australian studies have found that heavily loaded, ill-fitting backpacks can contribute to posture problems which can cause neck and back pain in children that could lead to permanent spinal damage in later life.

We are taking proactive steps to help combat this growing concern. We do so by providing schools, parents, and students with the right advice when it comes to protecting young backs.

Motion Health practices can partner with your local school offering free school bag fitting assessments. At one of these in-practice sessions, a physio will demonstrate a correct fit to the students back while also educating you on safe loading, and re-fitting the backpack when necessary.

As part of this initiative, our practices in New Zealand would like to provide your school the opportunity to have a professional physio provide onsite fittings and education.

This a great opportunity for your school to deliver even more value to parents and students as they prepare and eventually settle into study.

We’ve found these sessions particularly valuable to parents of school starters and students in their early primary school years. As parents are traditionally more hands on in these years it helps increase awareness and equips them to take a proactive approach in helping their children develop good posture and a healthy back.

If you would like to arrange a Motion Health physiotherapist to attend your school you can contact your local Motion Health practice.

Fitting your child's school bag

Back pain is usually a condition we associate with growing older, is becoming more prevalent in children and young adolescence.

In many cases, the cause of back pain is the result of carrying excessive loads to and from school in an ill-fitting backpack.

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.

We have put this handy guide together to help you choose the right backpack, ensure it is fitted correctly, and have included a few extra tips on keeping the load your children are carrying at a comfortable level.

Choosing the right backpack

When looking to purchase a backpack for your child, consider some of the key features below:

  • A lightweight pack that doesn’t add a lot of weight to your child’s load;
  • 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;
  • 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

Here are some tips to ensure you choose the right size backpack for your child:

  • The top of the backpack should not be 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 child’s backpack

Ideally, the centre of mass of a pack should be at waist height. It should fit the body comfortably and have adjustable buckles to lower or lift the pack into position once on the wearer’s back.

There should be a waist belt to keep the load in place when on the move, and separate compartments to allow heavy items to be packed close to the body. The pack should be padded where it touches the back, and should be made of firm material to prevent sagging.

Adjusting the straps

The straps should be tight enough so that the bag is held against the torso. It 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.

Quick tips

  • Limit your child’s load; plan ahead so they don’t carry too much
  • They should never carry more than 10% of their body weight
  • Pack heavy items closest to the spine
  • They should take regular short rests when carrying a heavy pack
  • They should always wear their backpack over both shoulders

To arrange a physiotherapist to come to your school for a class fitting call 1300 589 581 or find your nearest practice online.