Shoes, bags & study desks can all play a role in your child's health when it comes to neck, back or foot pain. Here is our advice for reducing potential issues

3 ways to help minimise neck, back or foot pain for your kids

Every year January & February rolls around and parents go through the exciting time of seeing their children get ready to go to school. For some it is their first time, others it is going from primary to secondary and it is a time of mixed emotions as the kids are growing up & becoming more independent.


Every parent rushes around to try to find the right uniform clothes, backpack, shoes & even sort out a study area at home but this is mixed in with sorting out daily life routines, paying bills, working & just trying to keep on top of life. Therefore it becomes pretty easy to forget about some of the potential injuries that children can sustain from not having the right shoes, a bag that is too heavy or a poor study area to use at home.


Switch has physiotherapy clinics located in Sydney that helps children in lots of different ways using our range of physical therapy techniques & podiatry services. We can help children to develop and maintain their mobility skills, joint range of movement, muscle strength, and motor skills.


If your child is feeling pain in their body maybe in their neck, back or feet that isn’t attributed to a specific incident, accident or sports injury then it is worth seeking a children’s physio in Sydney to assess why. There could be imbalances and discrepancies in their muscles and movements of their body and we can advise on how best to treat these symptoms to reduce any pain being suffered. What we are finding more and more these days is that children are suffering pain from not wearing the right shoes, carrying bags that are too heavy, trying to use a laptop on a desk that isn’t set up correctly or using mobile devices for long periods of time.


Our physiotherapists can work with families to help correct these situations & we are also able to work in a consultative way with schools and teachers, providing advice on reducing risk in daily activities or teach new skills to identify areas to look for.

How do you know your child is beginning to suffer pain from shoes, desk or backpack?

  • Complaining of discomfort around their neck, shoulders or back area.
  • Bad sleep due to feeling too much pain
  • Not being able to sit for long periods of time which is uncomfortable
  • Soreness at the end of day
  • Not participating in sport due to pain
  • Blisters on feet from badly fitting school shoes
  • Heel pain
  • Pain on other parts of feet
  • Waking up with a sore back or neck
  • Injuries from badly fitting school shoes or sport shoes
  • Knee pain

1. How a backpack should be packed & fitted correctly to reduce back pain


How to fit a backpack

Believe it or not just throwing the backpack over your shoulder isn’t the best way to prevent potential injury or soreness to shoulders, neck or back, here is what we suggest;

  • ensure that the backpack is worn with two straps at all times; rather than hanging it on one shoulder
  • the bottom edge of the backpack should no lower than 5cm of the child’s waist, and the top edge of the backpack shoulder be no higher than 5cm above the child’s shoulders
  • try to minimise as much as possible the gap between the child’s back and the contact surface of the backpack
  • ensure all straps are tied up firmly to help reduce excess force being placed on the spine/shoulders – i.e. chest, waist straps
  • ensure that backpack has wide, and relatively thick shoulder straps
  • ensure the width of the backpack’s edges are within shoulder width distance of the child



Why you shouldn’t over load a back pack

Most children will just throw everything into their back pack and not even give any thought as to where or how the weight is distributed. Just like a heavy vehicle hauling goods on a trailer, there are right & wrong ways to prepare a load. In the case of a back pack, putting things in correctly can help avoid back or shoulder pain

When wearing a backpack, we are essentially providing an external force to the spine and shoulders. With the application of external forces, there is a potential to cause overload and/or deviation of the structures bearing the force. Therefore, it is important to fit and pack the backpack in the most efficient way possible, so that the stress and load being placed on the spine and shoulders is minimised. That way your child can bring all the things they need to school, whilst preventing the potential negative consequences of wearing a backpack.

  • keep objects that are heavier (e.g. text books) closer to the spine and preferably in the middle (between the top and bottom of the backpack)
  • keep lighter objects (e.g. stationary) in the front or top sections of the backpack
  • don’t pack the backpack at over approximately 10-15% of the child’s body weight (so if your child weighs 50kg, the backpack should weigh no more than 7.5kg.

What problems can be caused by a bad fitting back back or one that is over loaded?

  • low back overload and pain
  • thoracic spine (or midback) overload and pain
  • neck and shoulder overload and pain
  • postural issues: commonly- rounded shoulders, poke neck postures, thoracic rounding (known as kyphosis), functional scoliosis
  • muscular strain of muscles which attach to the neck/shoulders (commonly, upper traps, rhomboids)




2. How a children’s study desk should be set up correctly to reduce back or neck pain

Well, the topic of sitting at a desk relates to children and adults these days as the majority of job roles are desk bound. Most issues arising from poor desk setups or not sitting correctly are due to excess pressure/tension being placed on specific parts of the spine (or other areas of the body) that are loaded in positions out of alignment. Issues can also be caused by overload (areas of the body that have to work excessively hard) or simply because specific areas such as the spine don’t move enough (i.e. prolonged sitting).

  • lower back pain and discomfort from excess pressure through the lumbar spine
  • neck pain and discomfort from poor posture and excess strain through the cervical joints and/or muscles
  • cervicogenic/tension headaches from poor posture and excess strain through the cervical joints and/or muscles
  • repetitive strain injuries to the upper limb; e.g. shoulder pain, muscular overuse (deltoid, pecs)
  • neural issues: e.g. carpal tunnel syndrome, upper limb neural tension/irritation



How do you reduce potential pain points?

The most important one of all is try to get up and move around every 20-30 minutes for a 2 minute walk around the house or the room before returning to a seated position

  • ensure feet are flat on the floor
  • place ankles slightly in front of knees
  • ensure there is equal pressure on both left and right sitting bones (known as your ischial tuberosities) on the seat surface
  • keep thighs and forearm parallel to the floor
  • ensure the spine is in a neutral posture (upright) and that the shoulders are relaxed (try not to slouch). – if writing, try to maintain an upright posture with neutral spinal curvature which is in contact with the chair surface at all times (can use a pillow/cushion for the lower back if needed) – ensure the screen (if looking at one) is at eye level
  • ensure that if using a keyboard and/or mouse the elbows are kept by your side and bent to 90 degrees (in a L shape), and the wrists are in a neutral position



3. How to choose the right shoes for your child going back to school

The bones in young children’s feet don’t fuse together until puberty. This means their feet can lack muscle strength and be prone to hypermobility, which is why they need firm, supportive shoes to help protect them while they’re growing. This becomes especially important for active kids who are moving around a lot at school in a classroom, out in the yard, walking to or from school etc.

When you think about it, a child’s feet will spend most of their growth period in a school shoe – from around 7.30 am to 4.00 pm every day for at least six or seven years their feet will have a school shoe.

One of the biggest problems we see is that parents buy shoes that are too big to try & save a bit of money, but that can help a child fall over and make it easier for them to get scuffed as they are typically ‘dragging’ their shoe along. What our podiatrists in Sydney often see is the parents end up replacing them because they don’t last long enough as it wasn’t the right fit.

Children will often get annoyed at wearing shoes because they have blisters, trip more often or can’t run comfortably in them. Guess what, the parents end up buying another pair – this could have been avoided if the right ones were bought in the first place.

For extreme cases the child then has pain in their feet, lower legs or even lower back from not being able to walk comfortably. From our perspective it is another client we can help, but if the right shoe was fitted the first time around it could have been avoided.

So in short, the right fitting shoe can

  • Avoid blisters and skin irritations
  • Supportive shoes to help with providing support during sports activities to help prevent injuries
  • Your child will feel more comfortable and confident running around with their friends, so it has mental health benefits as well
  • Particularly after a year of homeschooling, feet will need support as students return to school & their bodies get used to standing and walking all day.
  • Flexible and supportive school shoes can improve balance



What to look for when trying to get a shoe fitted?

  • Thumbnail length from the longest toe not just the big toe to the end of the shoe.
  • Make sure the width of the shoe is just right- not too tight.
  • Ensure that the back of the shoe is not digging into the heel.



What features should a good fitting shoe have?

  • Laces are preferred as you can adjust the tightness
  • A strong heel counter that does fold down at the back
  • Flexibility in the front of the shoe
  • The midsole (middle of the shoe) is supportive



What type of feet problems can we treat in our clinics?

  • Heel pain
  • Shin splints
  • Knee pain
  • Sever’s condition
  • Orthotics
  • Flat feet
  • Feet and lower limb Injuries from sport
  • Sprained ankle


Founder of Switch Physiotherapy. We have physio clinics located in Penshurst, Concord & Maroubra that focus on getting people out of pain and moving again.

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