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"It Ain't Heavy, It's My School Bag!"

"It Ain't Heavy, It's My School Bag!"

A heavy schoolbag need not bog you down, if you carry all your notes in a Palm Pilot! But before that time arrives, HealthAnswers has some great ideas on how to deal with it.

Dr Michael Chia
Assistant Professor
School of Physical Education

The demands of school can literally be too heavy and can be a burden to one's good health. For most of us, the burden of a heavy school bag may be likened to a "daily cross" that we carry without too much thought.

The short-term results of carrying a heavy school bag are neck strain, back pains and aching shoulders. In the longer term, the child or teenager may have poor posture.

Research tells us that healthy young people should not carry more than a third of their body weight's equivalent for any period of time as that would place undue strain on their immature skeletal frame. This can lead to the adoption of poor posture habits such as slouching and other compensatory postures like "rounded shoulders". Carrying heavy school bags on one side of the shoulders instead of distributing the weight equally on both shoulders may also lead to "lop-sided" shoulders. These compensatory postures will go contrary to the posture of confidence and self-assuredness. Moreover, the constant pounding of a heavy school bag on one's back is also uncomfortable.

Fortunately, some of the more innovative features of camping haversacks such as padded shoulder straps and waist straps, features that help reduce the stress and strain on the posture can also be found in the better designed school bags. Other innovations in school bag design such as trolley-bags with adjustable "trolley arms" can also help.

Here are some exercises you can teach your child or your student to help them relieve those tense muscles of the neck, shoulders and back.

20000510a.gif (33872 bytes)Open up your shoulders:
1. Sit up straight on a chair with feet on the floor.
2. Place your fingertips on both shoulders and look ahead.

3. Breathe out as you bring your elbows together in front of your chest.
4. Breathe in. 'Fan out' with elbows at shoulder height, pointing to your sides.
5. Repeat at least five times.

20000510b.gif (16655 bytes)Soothe your neck:
1. Sit up straight on a chair or bench with feet flat on the floor, hands by your side and with your eyes shut.
2. Slowly turn your head to the right and then to the left.
3. Without moving your shoulders, bring your chin to touch your chest.
4. Remember to breathe in and out through your nose throughout the exercise. Repeat at least five times.

20000510c.gif (17419 bytes)Reach for the stars:
1. Sit up straight on a chair with feet on the floor and look straight ahead.
2. Inhale deeply as you raise your arms up and exhale as you reach for the sky as if someone is pulling you up by the fingertips.
3. Put your hands down and relax.
4. Repeat this exercise at least five times.

20000510d.gif (17901 bytes)Push it all back:
1. Sit up straight on a chair or bench with feet on the floor and look straight ahead.
2. Inhale as you fold your arms behind your back and grasp your forearms.
3. As you exhale, push your shoulders back and hold for three to five counts.
4. Repeat this exercise for at least five times.


  1. Michael Chia. Health Education for Schools in Singapore (in review).
  2. Alter, A (1998). The Science of Stretching. Human Kinetics, USA.
  3. Andrew Ferguson (1998). Back and Neck Pain. Pelham books, UK.

Date reviewed: 10 May 2000

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.

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