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Choosing the right bag for going back to school

Nurturing

Simple tips for the new school year

Health
Andrew O'Brien

It’s that time of year again. The Mayo football rollercoaster is in full swing and the days are getting that little bit shorter. All the signs point to one thing: it’s nearly back to school time. This time last year in our house we had the excitement of starting big school, but now we’ve got a big boy who will be showing the little kids around. It’s amazing how for years you ignore all the back to school sale noise because it’s not relevant.
Amidst all the last minute running around buying uniforms and stationery, there is something worth putting a little bit of thought into: school bags. We made the mistake of starting last year with a cheap one that barely lasted until Christmas. But, quality aside, it’s worth considering a few things when looking at school bags.
The size of the bag is obviously important, both from the point of view of how much needs to fit in, and also compared to the size of the child. A bag that fits a teenager is going to be way too big for a child in first class, so rather than just grabbing one off the rack, get your child to try it on. A bag with adjustable straps is crucial, anyone who has ever carried a backpack for even a little while knows how much fidgeting it takes to get the fit right. Chest straps on backpacks can make a big difference to how well the bag sits on your shoulders. Similarly a bag that is too small to carry everything that’s needed can be incredibly awkward to carry, regardless of whether it’s a backpack or a sports bag.

Wheeled bags
For students that have to carry a lot of books, a wheeled bag can be quite useful. A few years ago the Australian Physiotherapy Association partnered with a manufacturer to design school bags. One of the main products that came out of the partnership was a wheeled backpack, obviously not a ground-breaking idea, but a relatively new one for primary school aged kids. The combination allows kids to carry the bag when it’s relatively light or wheel it if it’s too heavy to carry.
It’s worth thinking a little about how to pack a bag as well, and before you say it, I know kids are just going to stuff things in however they like in order to get out the door. If using a backpack, heavier books should be kept as close to the body as possible, with lighter items being further away. This stops the bag from hanging back and dragging on the shoulders. When using a sports bag, the heaviest items should be at the bottom so that they are less likely to slide around when carrying.
Worth considering too, is how much of what is in the bag actually needs to be there. This is a comment that could just as easily be made with regard to handbags as much as school bags, but I’ll leave that battle for another day! Why carry extra weight if you don’t need to? It can be a hassle to go through a bag every day, but taking out the excess ‘stuff’ every so often is a pretty good idea. God only knows what wonders you might find!
A point worth finishing on, after all this talk of worrying about school bags and how heavy they can be, is that there is actually no evidence to show that carrying a heavy school bag causes back pain in children. In fact there is evidence to suggest that it is good for the growing back to be loaded somewhat. There is, however, plenty of evidence to show that inactivity is bad for the back, along with health in general. So don’t panic too much if the bag seems a bit heavy, it’ll do them good.

Andrew O’Brien is a chartered physiotherapist and the owner of Wannarun Physiotherapy and Running Clinic at Westport Leisure Park. He can be contacted on 083 1593200 or at www.wannarun.ie.

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