Backpack / Schoolbag Safety Tips from a Chiropractor

The kids are nearly back at school! Hopefully they have had lots of time outside in the wonderful weather away from devices.  Like most parents it does my head in to see kids with their heads buried face down onto a small illuminated screen. As Term 1 looms, it is worth bearing in mind some common sense things around back packs.  As my kids are now teenagers, some of them are still required to carry a small house on their backs to and from school.  This can have the effect of pushing their neck curves even further in the wrong direction just as those small screens do.  So here are some tips to keep in mind.  And as always, please please and please have the young people in your lives checked by us.  There is no better time for a spine and nervous system check-up than when you are young. 

  • Make sure your child’s backpack weighs no more than 10 percent of his or her body weight. A heavier backpack will cause your child to bend forward in an attempt to support the weight on his or her back, rather than on the shoulders, by the straps.
  • Make sure the backpack is sturdy and appropriately sized – no wider than the child’s chest
  • Wide, padded straps are very important. Non-padded straps are uncomfortable and can dig into your child’s shoulders.
  • Use both shoulder straps – never sling the pack over one shoulder. Lugging the backpack around by one strap can cause the disproportionate shift of weight to one side, leading to neck and muscle spasms, as well as low-back pain.
  • The straps should be shortened until the bottom of the backpack is just above the child’s waist, and not sitting on their buttocks. The backpack should lie flat on the child’s back.
  • The backpack should never hang more than 10cm’s below the waistline. A backpack that hangs too low increases the weight on the shoulders, causing your child to lean forward when walking.
  • Use waist straps. (If the bag has them)
  • A backpack with individualised compartments helps in positioning the contents most effectively. Make sure that pointy or bulky objects are packed away from the area that will rest on your child’s back.
  • Bigger is not necessarily better. The more room there is in a backpack, the more your child will carry-and the heavier the backpack will be.
  • If the backpack is still too heavy, talk to your child’s teacher. Ask if your child could leave the heaviest books at school, and bring home only lighter hand-out materials or workbooks. – use school lockers.


[1] Schoolbag weight and the effects of schoolbag carriage on secondary school students. Dockrella, C. Kanea, E. O’Keeffea a School of Physiotherapy, Trinity Centre for Health Sciences, Trinity College Dublin,

[2] Perceived school bag load, duration of carriage, and method of transport to school are associated with spinal pain in adolescents: an observational study. Clare Haselgrove, Leon Straker, Anne Smith, Peter O’Sullivan, Mark Perry, Nick Sloan 2011 Australian Journal of Physiotherapy Volume 54, Issue 3, 2008, Pages 193–200

[3] Backpack as a daily load for schoolchildren. Negrini S Carabolona R and Sibilla P. The Lancet. 354 (1999) 1974.

[4] Influence of load and carrying methods on gait phase and ground reactions in children’s stair walking. Hong Y and Li J. Gait and Posture. 22 (2005) 63-68.

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

[6] The association of backpack use and back pain in adolescents. Sheir-Neiss G Kruse R Rahman T Jacobson L and Pelli J. Spine. 28 (2003) 922-930.

[7] Chiropractors’ Association of Australia ‘Backpack use among Australian School Children’ Fact Sheet