Don’t let your kids back pack be a pain in the back ~ Surge Physiotherapy


Back to school blues?

Congratulations, you have successfully made it through the first month of the 2019-2020 school season; amazing how fast time flies! Now that school is in full swing and the workload has increased have you noticed that your child’s backpack seems to be getting heavier and busting at the seams? Is your kid getting home at the end of the day with complaints of their pack being too heavy or that their back/neck/shoulders hurt? This may in part be a result of students packing their bags to the brim without realizing the negative impact that the weight will have on their wellbeing.

Backpacks are necessary for getting all school essentials from home to school and vice versa; however, with growing numbers of books, notebooks, folders, etc. in addition to delicious lunches, it is hard to realize that we are placing kids at risk (for aches and pains). Carrying an overloaded backpack or wearing one improperly can lead to poor posture, over-stretching of soft tissues in the neck and back, and unnecessary strain on muscles and joints.

Don’t let your kids back pack be a pain in the back:

When a heavy weight, in this case a book stuffed backpack, is incorrectly placed on the shoulders, the weight’s force can pull a child backwards and in turn the child usually will bend forward at the hips or slouch forwards causing the spine to compress unnaturally. As a result, it is generally recommended that children carry no more than 10-15% of their body weight in their school bags. So if your child is 50lbs their bag should weight no more than 5-7.5lbs. Additionally, make sure that both shoulder straps are being used. Kids may think it looks “cool” or feel “easier” to wear their backpack just over one shoulders, but what goes unrecognized is that to offset the weight they end up leaning to one side which can potentially cause neck and/or back pain. Strategically packing a backpack can also help lighten the load placed on the neck, back and shoulders. Make sure that you pack larger, heavier items such as textbooks and binders at the back of the bag so they are resting closest to your child’s back.

Fit the back pack to the person, not the person to the backpack:

When or if you are planning on getting your child (or yourself) a new backpack there are a few important things to keep in mind. Make sure that the backpack is sturdy and appropriately sized. The backpack itself should be approximately the width of the person. It should come up to the shoulders and sit no further down than the top of the pelvis (~10cm below the waistline). You should be able to achieve this by shortening the straps; the backpack should end up lying flat on the back. Wide, padded straps are very important as well; non-padded straps are uncomfortable and can dig into the shoulders (ouch!). If you can find a backpack that has a waist strap, even better! A waist, or hip, strap aids in distributing the load to the pelvis. The waist belt sends the weight of your pack down through your legs which are equipped to carry increased weight, preventing you from getting tired as quickly. Last but not least, it is important to remember bigger isn’t better. The more room there is in a backpack the more likely you are to stuff that bag full and have it be too heavy. Try to avoid any over the shoulder/messenger bags, drawstring bags, leather bags with narrow shoulder straps, or rolling backpacks as they will need to be lifted up stairs causing other strain.

Overall, backpacks are designed to distribute load evenly and when worn correctly (and not overpacked), a backpack is supported by some of the strongest muscles in the body: the back and abdominal muscles. The Canadian Physiotherapy Association (CPA) recommends parents ensure their children do not carry their ‘whole world’ around with them everyday. Teach them how to wear a backpack properly (and why) and look for the following signs:

  • Pain when wearing the backpack;
  • Tingling or numbness in the arms; and
  • Red marks on the shoulders.

Above all, parents should encourage children to share if they experience any pain or discomfort before it becomes a serious problem.

For more information or to book an appointment call 705-380-3312 or visit the website . Surge Physiotherapy is located at 33 King William Street, Suite 204, in Huntsville. Office hours are flexible with evening appointments available (3x/week). Email – [email protected]

Stephanie is a bilingual, Registered Physiotherapist with the College of Physiotherapist of Ontario and the Canadian Physiotherapy Association who is committed to providing a hands on, personalized approach to physiotherapy.  

Stephanie, a native to the Huntsville community, developed a passion for health and wellness during her youth while competing in cross-country running, nordic skiing, and track and field. Stephanie has always had a strong caring nature and fell in love with the physiotherapy profession while volunteering at a physiotherapy clinic during high school and university. 

Stephanie continued to build on her passion for health care by attending McGill University and completing her Bachelors of Science in Kinesiology. During her Masters in Health Science of Physiotherapy, completed at the University of Ottawa, she completed internships in orthopaedic clinics, hospitals, home care, and neurology centres.