How Heavy is that Backpack?

On our blog we’ve often mentioned how overloaded backpacks are responsible for more back pain than we’d even like to think about, every single year – we’ve also often mentioned how important it is to ensure that children’s backpacks are both ergonomic and within a safe weight limit – some new research, however, has suggested many more children than we may think are experiencing back pain related to heavy backpacks!


Are backpacks a big deal?

If there have been any benefits from the covid pandemic, the shift to digital learning tools has got to be one of them – yes, study from home wasn’t popular with everyone (especially parents) but there’s no denying that it’s much easier to look after and carry one tablet or iPad, rather than a whole bundle of books. The problem is that even though an iPad can store an entire library’s worth of books, most kids still trudge to and from school each day carrying an oversized and overweight backpack filled with sports kit, supplies for the day, and yes – often still books! While it may not seem like a big deal, recent studies have now shown that carrying the weight of a typical backpack is one of the top reasons for kids to have back pain – as we head back to school after the easer break it’s an important issue parents need to consider.


The problem with heavy backpacks

A vast majority of kids wear backpacks every day that weigh 15 lbs (a bit over 6kg) or more. On the face of it that might not seem like that much to you – but to a kid it’s quite a considerable amount. It’s true that carrying this kind of weight for a short period probably isn’t the end of the world – but our kids spend the majority of their day at school lugging these backpacks around – while they come off during lessons, it’s fair to say that the average kid probably spends between 2 and 3 hours a day carrying this weight – and over time, the stress of this load can result in back pain, a rounding of the shoulders and postural changes. The spinal compression caused by heavy backpacks often has kids leaning forward to compensate, which begins a vicious cycle of postural issues, compensation and pain. This can even be made worse by parents telling students to stand up straight – while this is usually good advice, it may actually lead to injury when carrying a heavy weight (the body positions itself “forward” for a reason!).

So how bad is the problem?  Recent research suggests that up to 30% of kids may suffer from back pain due to carrying a heavy backpack.[1] That’s one in three suffering from totally avoidable, unnecessary back pain!


What can I do?

While heavy backpacks can be an issue, it’s also true that kids do need to take equipment, books and other items to school with them – often, one good piece of advice, such as carrying plenty of water comes back to bite us here in terms of carrying weight. Thankfully, there are some ways that we can help – most of them boil down to better organization.

  • As a guide, limiting the total weight of the backpack to less than 10% of your child’s body weight is recommended – this is an easy number to work with so it’s worth actually checking!
  • Instruct your child to wear their backpack with both shoulder straps fitted snugly, so the backpack isn’t carried below the waistline. Kids typically choose their backpack based on what makes them look cool, rather than what’s ergonomic – when purchasing, make sure that the size is appropriate (and not too big) and that it has compartments to help distribute the load.
  • Consider renting a locker for your child. While locker rental can be expensive, it gives kids an opportunity to offload most of their heavy items for at least for half of the day. It also makes it possible to leave items only needed at school, at school.
  • Pack sports kit in a separate bag – which makes it easy to stow kit which isn’t needed or retrieve it at lunchtime.
  • If your child has access to a water fountain at school, fill their water bottle with a small amount of water which they can top up when needed, this saves carrying heavy water for the journey to school.


If your child has back pain

If your child is already complaining of back pain there’s a reasonable chance that an overloaded backpack could be a contributory cause. Don’t worry though – like most back pain related to stress and overwork, the issue can be overcome through some lifestyle changes and perhaps some proactive treatment such as chiropractic. If you have any questions about back pain and your child, why not book a consultation today, and get the benefit of a professional evaluation. At the very least, we might be able to help you work out how to get the weight of that backpack down!

[1] Backpack weight and back pain reduction: effect of an intervention in adolescents. Pediatric Research 2018


Blog by / April 29, 2022 / Blog

Dr. Paul Irvine is a doctor of chiropractic who graduated in 1994 with a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of NSW and in 1996, attained his Master of Chiropractic degree from Macquarie University in Australia. He practised in North Sydney for 5 years before he left Australia to travel and practise in the UK. He joined Complete Chiropractic in 2003 (est 1999) and took over the clinic in 2007