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Back to school: Pack it light and wear it right

Published: January 21, 2019

School bags can cause permanent spinal damage - most injuries occur because students carry back packs that are twice as heavy as the recommended 10 per cent body weight rule.

According to Australian spinal research foundation (2019), 90 per cent of school children have bad posture when carrying their bags and could experience spinal damage as a result, especially the Junior students in secondary school as the spine is in the critical stage of development in children between 12-14 years of age. While the 75 per cent of children are not using their backpack’s ergonomic features which could prevent such damage”

Here are some useful tips from Australian physiotherapy association to ensure your child’s back is cared for while they wear their back packs:

Pack it light: backpacks should not exceed more than 10% of the child's body weight. Heavier backpacks can result in shoulder, neck and back pain in children. Help your child get organised and only pack the essentials each day - use different notebooks for each subject, leave heavy text books at school lockers.  

Wear it right: Place all heavy items at the base of the pack, close to the spine, and lighter items towards the front for a better distribution of the weight

Good support:

  • Make sure the backpack is sturdy and appropriately sized – no wider than the student’s chest. Adjust the sternal strap tight enough so the bag is held against the body, with little room to swing around.
  • The top of the back pack should not be more than 3cm higher than their shoulders.
  • Choose a backpack with broad, padded shoulder straps
  • Use both shoulder straps – never sling the pack over one shoulder. The straps should be shortened until the bottom of the backpack is just above the child’s waist, and not sitting on their buttocks. When the straps are shortened to this level, the backpack should lie flat on the child’s back.
  • Use waist straps to keep the bag in place when on the move and to help distribute the weight between the hips and shoulders.

Author: Anusha Charlapally, Physiotherapist from Back In Motion Werribee & Back In Motion Point Cook

To arrange a physiotherapist to come to your school for a class fitting or if you have any concerns regarding your child’s posture or spine, please call us on 03 9395 0319 to book an appointment.


Australian spinal research foundation (2019). “Heavy school bags biggest pain in the neck”.

vanGent, Dols J DeRover, Hira Sing, and De Vet. (2003). The weight of schoolbags and the occurrence of neck, shoulder, and back pain in young adolescents. Spine (28). 916-921.