From kindergarten to high school our kids are carrying daily stress in their backpack that can lead to unnecessary back pain. Too often they include things that are not really needed adding to the weight being carried.

Carrying excessive weight in a backpack can cause wear-and-tear on the joints, ligaments and muscles. The body works to compensate for the extra weight being carried but the body can’t sustain the strength needed for prolonged periods of time. Degeneration, stiffness, loss of range of motion and pain can occur in the back and other parts of the body as other muscles start to compensate for the extra strain. This can lead to chronic back pain, compression of the discs in the spine, neck pain, poor posture and gait and even foot pain.

How much should kids carry?

As a general guide, children should only carry about 10% of their body weight although this does vary depending on their need for the day.

It's not just the weight of the backpack that can be a problem, it’s also the load shape and size, how it is positioned on the body and the time spent carrying it.

Ten tips for safely carrying your backpack to prevent injuries and longer-term musculoskeletal problems

  1. Choose a backpack with broad, padded shoulder straps, sturdy and appropriately sized and no wider than the student’s chest
  2. Use a waist or chest strap if the backpack has one.
  3. Shorten the straps until the bottom of the backpack is just above the waist and not sitting on the buttocks. The backpack should lie flat on the back.
  4. Keep good posture: ears above your shoulder, shoulders back, chest open, and back straight.
  5. Lift the backpack up from the ground by bending the knees. Bending over puts more strain on the lower back.
  6. Pack only what is necessary.
  7. Distribute the weight evenly: wear and tighten both straps of the backpack. Never sling the pack over one shoulder.
  8. Pack heavier items at the base of the pack, close to the spine, for a better distribution of the weight
  9. Leave textbooks at home and use a digital copy.
  10. Use lockers at school to avoid carrying everything at once.

Help out your kid's bodies by helping them get organised as the new school year starts.

If your child is experiencing pain and you think it’s from carrying a heavy backpack, see your physiotherapist for assessment and treatment.