Don't Let Your Education Weigh You Down!

National School Safety Week
October 17 - 23, 2008

OTTAWA – Canadian school children are injuring their spines and arms by carrying heavy backpacks to school says the Canada Safety Council (CSC). This can cause chronic problems that linger into adulthood.

Parents should monitor the use of their child’s backpack. Students can minimize strain by using and fitting a backpack that works for them rather than against them. The Canadian Physiotherapy Association (CPA) recommends the selection and use of a backpack with the following features:

  • It should be the right size for the person using it. A backpack should not be chosen for size ”to carry more.” The shoulder straps should fit comfortably and not dig in to the shoulders, allowing the arms to move freely; the bottom of the pack should rest in the contour of the lower back; and the pack should “sit” evenly in the middle of the back, not “sag down” toward the buttocks.
  • It should be made of lightweight materials, like canvas, to reduce the weight, and with lots of storage compartments to enable better storage and the ability to balance the weight of the contents throughout the entire pack.
  • Padded back – this feature will reduce pressure and prevent the pack’s contents from digging into the back.
  • Padded, contoured, shoulder and chest straps – to help reduce pressure and balance the weight. Backpacks should have thickly padded (2 inches wide), adjustable shoulder straps and an extra hip strap. The shoulder straps should be adjusted so the bottom of the pack sits two inches above the waist.
  • Waist belt or hip strap – to distribute some of the load to the pelvis. The waist belt sends the weight of the pack down through the legs, which are more used to carrying weight; and it will maintain the central position keeping the pack closer to the back.
  • Compression straps – on the sides or bottom of the backpack to help compress the contents of the backpack and stabilize the articles.
  • Reflective material – for visibility to drivers at night.

CSC and CPA recommend the following tips:

  • Centre the backpack between the shoulder blades using both shoulder straps.
  • Use both shoulder straps to help distribute the weight of the pack evenly and to promote a good posture. Using only one strap loads the entire weight of the bag over one shoulder resulting in back pain and strain to the neck and shoulders. Leaning forward may affect the natural curve in the lower back, and increase the curve of the upper back and shoulders.
  • Keep the weight manageable. A full backpack should never weigh more than 15 per cent of the carriers’ body weight. For example, someone weighing 115 lbs. (52 kg) should not carry more than 17 lbs. (7.8 kg) with the heaviest items stored closest to the back. Remember, carrying heavy loads incorrectly can lead to back strain or even chronic problems. These risks can be greatly increased in children and adolescents.
  • Maintain a good posture at all times, standing tall with your head and neck aligned with your shoulders. Keeping your shoulders pulled gently back and down will help. This position may feel strange at first, but persevere. As an exercise try utilizing this posture, gently squeezing your shoulder blades together and then rotate your palms to face outwards. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat five times. Also try not to slouch whether sitting or standing, this can lead to faulty posture and weakened muscles contributing to spinal pain.

If your child is experiencing pain, consult a health care professional. More information on backpacks and proper stretching exercises can be found at www.physiotherapy.ca

For further information, please contact:

Mr. Raynald Marchand, Canada Safety Council, General Manager, Programs
Telephone: (613) 739-1535, ext. 226

Ms. Virginia Bawlf, National Media Liaison, Canadian Physiotherapy Association
Telephone: 1-800-387-8679, ext. 222 or by e-mail: vbawlf@physiotherapy.ca