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How to choose backpack for your child

  1. How does carrying heavy bags hurt children’s backs? What are some common complaints? Are children more susceptible to back injuries?

Carrying heavy bags can cause shoulder and back pain in children. A heavy backpack, when used incorrectly, can pull the child backwards. The child will have to use compensatory strategies of either sticking the neck forward with a rounded shoulder and/or tightening the back muscles to maintain his/her balance.

Overtime, this poor posture can cause tightening of the shoulder and chest muscles, weakening of essential neck and shoulder stabilizer muscles and tightening of the lower back. This uneven development of the shoulder and chest muscles results in what medically known as the upper cross syndrome. In addition, prolong carrying of heavy backpack, especially those with tight and narrow strap, causes reduction in blood circulation, which can lead to numbness, tingling sensation and weakness of the arms and hands.

The muscle imbalances make it difficult to self-correct the poor posture, causing excessive strain of the shoulder and neck, leading to pain. This condition is not exclusive to children. Adults get it too, mainly due to prolong sitting due to a deskbound job.

Shoulder aches and low back pain are 2 common complaints in children as a result of poor posture.
Children are actually less susceptible to back injuries compared to adults, as children are more flexible and it takes a longer period for muscles and joints to ‘stiffen up’ compared to adults. However, as children weigh less, it is easier to overload their body with a relatively light backpack. For instance, a 3kg backpack may be acceptable to a child who weighs 30kg but may be too heavy to a child who weighs 25kg.

2. Do heavy backpacks stunt children’s growth?

There is no evidence to show that heavy backpacks can stunt children’s growth.

3. Does carrying ergonomic bags help? Would you recommend it? What are some guidelines for children to ensure that back stays injury-free?

Carry ergonomic bags do help, if used correctly. Ergonomic bag helps to distribute the weight of the backpack evenly onto the shoulders and back, hence reducing a focal point of pressure buildup. As the load is more evenly distributed over the shoulder and pelvis, the child need not bend forward and hence is able to maintain a good posture.

General guidelines on backpack:

  • Accordingly to American Academy of Pediatrics, loaded backpack should not exceed 10-20% of body weight. Hence, purchase a backpack made of light and durable material. Carry essential materials required for the day and not the whole week’s worth.
  • The back should be padded so items such as pens will not poke out of the bag, which may injure the child if he/she falls. Padded back also increase the comfort.
  • Use both straps of the backpack instead of just using one. Using one strap may look ‘cool’ but it can put too much weight on one side of the body, resulting in uneven strain on the shoulder and back.
  • The straps should be wide in order to distribute the backpack’s weight over a bigger area
  • The straps should be well padded so that it does not impede blood circulation around the shoulders and arms.
  • It should preferably come with a waist belt to help distribute the backpack weight to the pelvis, off loading the shoulders.
  • Backpack should come in multiple compartments, to help distribute load evenly. Pack heavier items near the centre of the back.
  • Pick up the backpack by bending at the knees, and not at the waist.
  • A trolley bag may help children off load their shoulder; however, it may not be practical. Lugging the trolley bag up and down staircase and kerbs pose as a fall hazard to the child and others around him.
Disclaimer: The information and advice contained in or made available through this website is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the services of a health professional or to be a substitute for medical advice of physicians.
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