Back to School: Kids, Ergonomics and Pilates

Our world today is seeing our children bombarded with electrical devices – smartphones, tablets, video games, and television to name a few. National Guidelines recommend only one hour of TV/other electrical device use for infants/pre-schoolers, and two hours for older children(1). However, an increasing number of children are spending above this amount. Recent studies show that 9/10 children sit too much and don’t move around enough1. Today’s kids are far less likely to walk or cycle to school, or to play outdoors, compared to previous generations. In fact, in the past 40 years there has been a 42% decline in walking or riding to and from school(2).

What is the consequence of this increased screen time and decreased physical activity? 1 in 4 Australian children/adolescents are overweight or obese (and this is predicted to be 65% by 2020, scary figures!)1. And with this comes the increasing incidence of diabetes, asthma, mental health problems and physical pain (e.g. back pain). So how much activity should our kids be getting? The national guidelines say three hours daily for our infants/pre-schoolers and 1 hour daily for older children1.

What can you do? Ensure your child isn’t sitting or sedentary for long periods of time – no longer than one hour! Encourage your little ones to walk or ride to school – even if it is only one or two days a week (note our younger students may need an adult companion – so you would be ticking off your ‘Find 30′ too). Encourage the right desk space set-up for our older students (see the previous blog: ‘Preventing Injury: Ergonomic set-up of your computer and desk station’), and promote the right backpack fit. Lastly, get your kids into a sport. Struggling for an idea? Why not try Children’s Pilates.

Some tips about backpacks:

(Photo: Australian Physiotherapy Association)

A poorly fitted backpack can cause fatigue, back/neck/shoulder pain, muscle strain and postural changes(3). Here is some pointers to avoid these(4):

  • Ensure you buy a backpack that suits your child’s size – a common mistake is getting one too big (“you will grow into it”). And make sure it has adjustable and padded straps.
  • The weight of your child’s backpack should not exceed more than 10% of their body weight (So a Year 1 student who is 25kg, shouldn’t have a backpack over 2.5kg).
  • Waist and chest straps are also a good idea – the load is then distributed to the pelvis and hips.
  • The top of the backpack should not go above the shoulders.
  • The bottom of the bag should not go lower than the small of their back – definitely not below their bottom!
  • Place heavier items (textbooks/lunch boxes) closer to the back (close to the spine).
  • Only carry books and items that they need for that day.

The Australian Physiotherapy Association endorses Spartan physiopaks.

Children’s Pilates

Physical activity for our kids is extremely important – the social, emotional and physical benefits are crucial to healthy development. However, vigorous exercise may be detrimental to a child’s growing frame. Pilates is a low impact and safe form of exercise, hence perfect for our developing young ones.

Pilates was created by Joseph Pilates in the 1920s. It has advanced since then, but can be described as whole body conditioning centering on strengthening the core, and developing the mind-body connection.

What are the benefits for children?(5,6)
  • Improved posture and spinal alignment. Pilates will teach them how to walk, jump and bend over with correct movement patterns – which will be carried into adulthood. And we know old habits (and poor posture) dies hard!
  • Strength and flexibility of both core and trunk muscles.
  • Improved athletic performance – Pilates is an ideal complimentary activity for our competitive athletes. We have worked with runners, swimmers, netballers, ballerinas, football players (the list goes on).
  • Improved awareness of their bodies and ability to focus.
  • Reduces the risk of future injuries.
  • Stress management (especially for our high-school students).

There has even been more research lately surrounding the benefits of Pilates programs for children with neuro-muscular disorders (e.g. Cerebral Palsy). You may have read or heard about this trial Pilates study in Perth last year:

Here at Embody Physiotherapy and Pilates, we offer Clinical Pilates classes for children and adolescents generally aged 8 years and older. Usually the classes are smaller (1:1 or 1:2), and only go for 30 mins (this may change for our older teenagers). We keep it simple and fun, using lots of props and equipment!

For more information or any questions please phone: 08 6110 3331; or email:

Written by Courtney Kranz, Physiotherapist and Pilates Practitioner at Embody Physiotherapy + Pilates.


  1. Australian Government Department of Health, Australia’s physical activity and sedentary behaviour guidelines 13-17 years, Department of Health, Editor. 2014, Department of Health: Canberra, Australia
  2. Active Healthy Kids Australia, The road less travelled. The 2015 progress report card on active transport for children and young people. 2015, Active Healthy Kids Australia: Adelaide, South Australia.
  3. Australian Physiotherapy Association, Back to school: start the new year active and healthy, 2016: Australia.
  4. Australian Physiotherapy Association, Don’t break the back going back to school. 2015: Australia. Web link:
  5. Brown, Kerrie Lee, Pilates..Not just for Adults. Merrithew Corporation. Web link:
  6. Endelman, Ken, Pilates and our children: Fitness for the future. 2006, Balanced Body: Sacramento, CA. Web link:

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