Kids' school bags are packed with problems, physiotherapist says

'We see a lot of kids with neck pains, shoulder pains, headaches, and the backpacks are certainly contributing to this in a significant way,” physiotherapist says.

Picking the right backpack and reducing weight are keys to avoiding problems

A physiotherapist says kids' backpacks are contributing to back pain, neck pain and headaches. (Gerry Broome/Associated Press/Canadian Press)

By the time lunch, books and gym clothes are loaded in, kids' backpacks can look like they weigh more than the child.

Julia Brooks, a pediatric physiotherapist at Alberta Children's Hospital, says it's a big problem for the health of kids, especially among junior high school and high school kids.

"We see a lot of kids with neck pains, shoulder pains, headaches, and the backpacks are certainly contributing to this in a significant way," Brooks told All Points West host Robyn Burns.

"In addition to the posture that kids have at school — they're constantly looking down — and then they get up and they're looking at their phones.

"So it's kind of all these things contributing to this big problem that we're seeing fairly regularly."

Which bag is right?

When selecting a backpack, look for one that is about the width of the child, or maybe slightly wider. It should come up to the shoulders and sit no further down than the top of the pelvis.

Wider straps are best, with one for each shoulder. Chest straps and waist straps are also helpful as are pockets to distribute weight.

"A lot of the sort-of 'fashion' backpacks have very thin straps. They're sort of very flimsy. They sort of dangle onto their bottom," Brooks said. "There's still a problem in what they're doing to the kids body, that's for sure."

Plan to limit weight

Brooks says health professionals generally agree that kids should be carrying no more than 15 per cent of their weight in their backpacks. So, a 100 pound child, for instance, shouldn't be carrying more than 15 pounds in their bag.

Getting the weight down to that level can be tricky, Brooks said, but added there are strategies to get there.

For example, kids can carry an empty water bottle to school and fill it up there instead of carrying water from home.

Together with parents, kids can decide which textbooks are absolutely necessary.

"Small changes like this can make a huge difference," she said.

Listen to the full interview:

"We see a lot of kids with neck pains, shoulder pains, headaches and the backpacks are certainly contributing to this in a significant way," physiotherapist says. 4:04

With files from CBC Radio One's All Points West