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Back to school with a healthy back

With the new school year started across the world, the backs of young students face two challenges: the weight of the schoolbag and the static stress caused by sitting for long periods. Here are some healthy back-to-school tips from Patient Line Committee Member Dr Peter Ferlic to keep the back in good shape and avoid complaints.

Tips for the right backpack and the importance of exercise

Test the backpack beforehand

It is the "trademark" of children: a schoolbag or backpack is more than just a practical device to carry books and documents. It is also a statement and fashion accessory. When buying, however, not only should the children's wishes be fulfilled, but attention should also be paid to choosing a bag that suits each child individually.

Most importantly, the schoolbag should be a good fit. Orders from the Internet, for example, are therefore not recommended. Instead, the schoolbag should be tried on and tested.

When selecting a schoolbag, please pay attention to the following:
  • The backpack should be a good fit both with a T-shirt and a thick jacket.
  • Check that the straps don't slip.
  • Make sure the child doesn't adopt an undesirable posture when carrying it.

"In general, it is important that the carrying straps are sufficiently wide and well adjustable, do not pinch and distribute the load evenly. The compartment division should allow heavy objects to be placed as close to the body as possible," says Dr Peter Ferlic from the University Clinic for Orthopaedics and Traumatology at Med Uni Graz.

The frequent fear that bags that are too heavy damage the back is not clearly proven scientifically. Nevertheless, excessive weight should be avoided, and regular checks should be made to see what needs to be carried back and forth and what can be left at home or at school.

Sufficient exercise and sport

"However, other factors such as fitness, daily exercise and mental health are likely to play an even more important role than the weight of the schoolbag in the occurrence of back pain," explains Dr Peter Ferlic. A child with good fitness can carry heavier loads, while children with weak back muscles may experience discomfort even with lighter loads.

"Sitting for long periods and especially a lack of exercise during leisure time can be causes of back pain," says Dr Peter Ferlic. There is evidence that the amount of time spent in front of the TV or electronic devices (smartphone, tablet or laptop) directly correlates with the frequency of back pain.

In addition to the regular gymnastics lessons at school, additional sporting activity during leisure time is recommended. One option is to look at activities tailored for children offered by local sports clubs.

Mental health should not be forgotten either, as it also plays a role in the occurrence of back pain in children. "In summary, when it comes to the development of back pain, it's not just what school bag you carry, but who carries it. In addition to a well-chosen school bag, the key to a back-healthy school year is regular exercise and a fit back," Peter Ferlic concludes.

Adapted from an article by Patient Line Committee Member Dr Peter Ferlic for the Medizinische Universität Graz, Austria.
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