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Heavy schoolbags bad for kids' backs

06:00 AEST Sat Feb 2 2013
Kimberly Gillan

As kids head back to school, parents are being warned about the pain heavy and poorly packed schoolbags can inflict on children's backs.

Overloaded or incorrectly-worn backpacks put stress on the spine, which can lead children to lean forward, distort their spine and have a more rounded upper back.

A recent study found more than 61 percent of children carry bags heavier than 10 percent of their body weight on a daily basis.

"Ideally, schoolbags wouldn't weigh more than 10 percent of a child's body weight –– up to 15 percent would be okay, but 20 percent should raise eyebrows," Marcus Dripps, national president of the Australian Physiotherapy Association, told ninemsn.

"Some students wear their bag on only one shoulder, and they might walk tilted to one side and suffer neck pain. If the bag straps are too thin, they can dig into the shoulder muscles and strain the neck."

The way bags are packed and worn can also make a difference to back comfort.

"Backpacks should sit up on the back, rather than hanging backwards and the straps should be across both shoulders. If their bag has a waist strap, ideally that would be done up too," Dripps said.

"Try to put heavier items closer to your body. Plan ahead and leave things you don't need in your locker or at home so you are only carrying what is required."

A lot of the onus falls onto parents to keep tabs on their kids' loads.

"Cleaning out the backpack is not often spontaneously instigated by kids so parents need to remind them to clear their bag so they're not carrying unnecessary things," Dripps said.

"Most of the stuff we see in kids is temporary muscular discomfort, rather than structural wear and tear. Be on the lookout for sudden change and if there is pain, see a physio."

Most importantly, Dripps said children should be encouraged to keep active.

"We want to encourage activity in kids, and if you have a bag appropriately fitted, that is going to beneficial for your health," he said.

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