School bags and back pain

Written by Dr Shane Heslop


We like to think school bags have changed quite a lot since I was in school which was only about 2 years ago, well, perhaps slightly more.  We had anything and everything, including backpacks of course.  Unfortunately I am astonished to see the quality of backpacks that our kids are using today, in that, to me the same old issues are still arising.

When I see kids in the clinic nowadays, almost universally they will wear the bag down way too low, it seems to be trendy!  It will be overloaded with the weight incorrectly distributed, and they do not use all the straps of the back pack which are designed to support the bag to their back.  This MASSIVELY increases the weight of the bag in relation to the spine, and is of course a huge concern.  Children’s spines are still growing and adapting and they are just not ready to cope with such huge weights for such long periods of time.  It makes me both exasperated, and a little sad as its all so easy to change.


So what are the most important points to remember when fitting your child’s school backpack?

  • Firstly, make sure you buy the right size for your child and make sure it has padded and adjustable straps.  Adjustable straps are non negotiable.  Also having a waist strap is even better as fixing it around the waist helps balance weight evenly across their hips and keeps the backpack still and supported on their back.
  • They MUST wear both their straps, when carrying the backpack, so that they are balancing weight evenly across their shoulders and therefore their spine.
  • Don’t let them carry the bag too low, it’ll drag their shoulders down and they’ll compensate by hunching forward. Adjust the straps tightly so that the bag sits a lot higher, higher than you think is necessary.
  • Limit how much they are bringing to school.  Obvious, but important.  Pack the heaviest items CLOSEST to the spine.  This is important as it keeps the bags weight closest to the spine which limits compressive force onto the spine.


Research is saying that backpacks should ideally be no heavier than 10- 15% of a student’s weight when packed.  How many of you have put a full school bag on the scales to see how much it weighs? Could be an interesting experiment at home.


Kids spines are valuable!  And sensitive.  It just does not make sense to load 10-15kg into a back pack that they have to carry every day.  Try to keep the weight down, and follow our tips above.  Its worthwhile!

Our osteopaths are experts in showing you these tips.  Bring in your kids bags if they are attending for treatment.  Its so easy, we will be so happy to help.

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