Avoiding injuries from school bags and computers

Teen with backpack

At a glance

  • Keep an eye on your child's posture when they're using a PC or laptop.
  • When setting up an area for homework try to adjust it as much as possible to suit your child, not the other way around.
  • Young children are more susceptible to carrying heavier loads, while older kids are more likely to have more postural issues with computers.
  • Children should not carry backpacks weighing more than 10 per cent of their body weight.
  • Pack the heaviest items closest to your child's back.

Have you ever wondered if your child may be suffering physically from using a computer for schoolwork? Or if carrying their school bag may be causing them pain?

Most parents spend a lot of time worrying about their child's health, but sometimes the simplest things fall under the radar.

Health and computers

There are growing concerns about the potential side effects of children slumped over computers for prolonged periods of time. Just as with adults, long periods spent staring at a computer screen can lead to eye discomfort, blurred vision and headaches. Having a bad posture and not taking regular breaks can also cause problems.

"Children can suffer from a whole range of overuse-type injuries, especially problems with their wrists, shoulders, neck and hands," says Hilda Makhoul, a rehabilitation counsellor.

These can occur during peak times of use such as during term time, and might go away during the school holidays, Hilda says.

"Essentially though, you need to adjust the work environment to suit the person rather than trying to adjust the body to suit the environment."

Top tips for computing kids

  • Use a computer chair with adjustable height, tilt and lower spine options.
  • Teach your child to sit with their elbows at right angles to the tabletop and wrists flat, rather than raised.
  • Make sure your child's back is flat against the seat back. Feet should be flat on the ground and knees should face forward.   
  • For a smaller child, tilt the lumbar support forward so that the seat pan supports their legs as far as the backs of their knees. Use a step if your child's feet don't reach the floor properly.   
  • The top of the computer screen should be at eye level so your child can scroll down with their eyes rather than looking up and down and straining their neck.
  • Use a separate plug-in keyboard and mouse with a laptop, and raise the screen to an appropriate level with a dedicated laptop stand.

And what about those school bags?

As a physiotherapist specialising in exercise, movement and posture, Anna-Louise Bouvier is well aware of the problems kids have with heavy school bags.

"While high school kids are more likely to suffer from issues relating to laptop computers, primary school kids are more susceptible to carrying large loads," Anna-Louise says.

"An important study shows that a child should not carry a bag that weighs more than 10 per cent of their bodyweight, so that means a child weighing 25 kilograms could develop back problems if their bag weighs more than 2.5 kilograms."

Choosing and using a school bag

  • Choose a backpack with padded and adjustable shoulder, waist and chest straps. The Australian Physiotherapy Association recommends the PhysioPak.
  • Distribute weight evenly across both shoulders rather than put the strain on one.
  • Place heavy objects as close to the body as possible to avoid ‘bag sag'.
  • If possible, only lift a heavy bag from waist height.
  • Minimise the weight of a bag by only carrying that day's work.
  • Choice suggests that a good backpack has compression straps at the sides to draw the load together and bring it close to the child's back. These will also help stabilise the contents of a partially-filled pack.
  • Choice also suggests that before your child heads off to school, make sure they've packed their backpack properly. Items shouldn't be able to move around; the heaviest ones should be packed closest to their back to reduce stress on the spine, lighter items should be packed away from the spine.

You can find comprehensive information and advice about how to protect your child's back in the Spinal Health Package, a resource developed by The Children's Hospital at Westmead in collaboration with the NSW Department of Education and Communities and other organisations.


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